Indonesia will deploy about 250,000 police officers during the end-of-year holidays, the nation’s police chief said Thursday, as he appealed for tolerance after a hardline Islamic group threatened to conduct “sweeping operations” to prevent businesses from forcing Muslims to wear Santa Claus hats.
National Police Chief Tito Karnavian announced the increased police presence – a significant jump from last year’s deployment of 155,000 officers for Christmas and New Year – at a ceremony launching Operation Lilin at the National Monument Square in Jakarta.
During the event attended by thousands of police, military and public agency security officers, Tito downplayed concerns about potential militant attacks.
“We have not detected any threats of attacks by terrorist groups,” Tito said. “However, we must remain vigilant, there could be lone wolves or individuals who could launch an attack.”
“Lone wolves are individuals who have become radicalized over content on the internet. They learn how to make bombs from the internet and their whereabouts are undetected. We can only arrest them after an attack,” he said.
Earlier this month, the national anti-terror squad Densus 88 arrested 20 suspected terrorists in four provinces.
“We have launched a pre-emptive strike,” Tito said at the time. “We have arrested most of the groups that we consider having the potential to launch terror attacks.” He did not elaborate.
Tito said police would increase security at churches and entertainment spots in the Muslim-majority nation to curtail “sweeping operations.”
Earlier this week, the hardline Islamic Defenders Front threatened to raid business to check for Muslims being forced to wear Santa hats or other Christmas-related outfits, Reuters news service reported.
“There can be no sweeping operations," Tito said. "Members of the public should respect other religions that are carrying out celebrations."
“We reflect on our experience in 2000," Tito said, referring to Christmas Eve bomb attacks outside churches across Indonesia that killed 18 people. "We don’t want that to happen again.”
Muslim youth support
Police will have the support of millions of Muslims who have pledged to stand guard outside churches to ensure the safety of Indonesia's small Christian minority during holiday services.
Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, chairman of Gerakan Pemuda Ansor, the youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), welcomed the increased police presence and said his members would participate in maintaining security, if asked.
“We are ready if the church or the police ask us to, just like in previous years. Last year we deployed almost 2.5 million members across the country,” he told BenarNews.
Albertus Petty, chairman of the Association of Churches in Indonesia (PGI), welcomed the tighter security.
“We greatly appreciate the national police chief and NU’s commitment. We are thankful of the steps that the police are taking to prevent an anarchic situation such as ‘sweeping’ or other terror attacks from happening,” he said.
Albertus called on churches to deliver uplifting messages.
“We asked our congregations to celebrate Christmas with peace with anyone regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds to prevent hatred and disintegration,” he said.
Police must be alert to a potential attack by groups known as sleeper cells, according to Al Chaidar, a terrorism researcher at Malikussaleh University in Lhokseumawe, Aceh province.
“The rallies against U.S. President Donald Trump could increase threats and groups could use that as justification to launch their actions,” he said, referring to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in a move that has been widely condemned by Muslim nations.