Islamist leaders divided on tough stance by police

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 February, 2007, 12:00am

Abu Bakar Bashir proposes jihad in Poso as tensions simmer

Two of Indonesia's most outspoken radical Islamic leaders are at loggerheads over the police's tough stance in Poso, the Muslim stronghold in Central Sulawesi.

Laskar Jihad militia leader Jaafar Umar Thalib backs the police and has questioned the religious foundation of Abu Bakar Bashir's threatened jihad, or holy war, against the police in Poso.

Police have killed 17 suspected terrorists in the past two weeks and observers fear the crackdown could see the police replacing Christians as the main targets of mujahedeen attacks in the religiously divided province.

Mr Bashir, 69, head of the Majelis Mujahiddin Indonesia [MMI], an umbrella organisation that wants to turn the archipelago into an Islamic state, called the police 'anti-Muslim' and said Muslims should stop serving in the police's anti-terror squad in Sulawesi.

'If Muslims are being killed, then we must fight back. If necessary, we must organise a jihad,' added Mr Bashir, regarded as the spiritual leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah.

The group has been behind the worst attacks in the region in the past few years.

According to Mr Jaafar, Mr Bashir is missing the point.

'What Bashir teaches is based in the concept of Takfiriah. The core of this philosophy is that anyone who is not aligned with the Islamic teachings is Kafir [infidels, lost people],' he said.

'But there are several kinds of Kafir. The Kafir Dzimmi are non-Muslims who live in harmony with Muslims and should be protected. It is actually Haram [forbidden] to kill them. But Bashir puts all Kafir together. He also threatens a jihad against the police, but most policemen sent to Poso are Muslims.'

Mr Jaafar's religious lessons have angered Mr Bashir, who so far has refrained from making further inflammatory statements and has called for a 'clearing up' meeting.

MMI spokesman Fauzan al-Anshori accused Mr Jaafar of being on the police payroll. 'Jaafar is paid by the police,' he said. 'It is clear that the police are pushing him to attack Abu Bakar Bashir so that we do not proceed with the case against the abuses perpetrated by the security forces in Poso.'

He added that the MMI was planning to file charges against the police, whom they accuse of human rights abuses against some Muslims in Poso.

The split between the two Islamic camps does not surprise Sidney Jones, Southeast Asian director of the International Crisis Group, widely considered the leading expert in regional terrorism and conflicts. 'It is a deep split that goes back some time,' Ms Jones said. 'Laskar Jihad and Jemaah Islamiah had a turf war in the Maluku Islands during the sectarian conflict. It is re-emerging, but I would not read too much into it.'

Mr Jaafar confirmed he had been approached by Jemaah Islamiah when Laskar Jihad was involved in the Muslim-Christian war in the Maluku Islands and Central Sulawesi during 1999-2001. Laskar Jihad officially disbanded soon after the 2001 Malino peace agreement was signed.

The agreement ended most of the fighting of a conflict that killed 15,000 people.

'When Laskar Jihad was still the largest militia in the country, I refused to join forces with JI and that created problems,' he said.

According to Ms Jones, the muted reaction from nearly all the radical groups in Indonesia following the police operations in Poso is a good sign.