More than 200 Islamic militants from Southeast Asia have been sent on missions to attack Israel's interests and countries that support the Jewish state, their leader said yesterday.
The fighters have been trained to carry out suicide bombings to avenge Israeli military strikes on the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, according to Suaib Didu, chairman of the Jakarta-based ASEAN Muslim Youth Movement (AMYM).
"We will limit our targets to Israel's vital interests and those that support Israel's aggression in Palestine and Lebanon. We will not carry out attacks indiscriminately," Didu said.
Hardline militant groups in Indonesia have made claims in the past of sending volunteers to participate in conflicts overseas which have sometimes proved exaggerated.
Din Syamsuddin, chairman of the moderate Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second-largest Muslim group, said on Thursday that threats by radical Muslim groups to send volunteers to fight Israel were just "symbolic gestures."
"There are too many obstacles for these people to travel there. It is too costly and the Israeli army is no match for them," he said.
But Didu said more than 3,000 people had signed up for the mission, but only 217 people from Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore had been dispatched abroad so far.
A "show of force" of the more than 3,000 volunteers will be held today in Pontianak in West Kalimantan Province on Borneo island, Didu said, adding that many of the 200-plus fighters were veterans who fought alongside Afghan fighters during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Western countries such as the US and the UK as well as businesses could be targeted unless they ceased supporting Israel, he said.
Didu said the group was watching Australia's position on the Middle East conflict.
"If [Australian Prime Minister] John Howard makes a statement in support of Israel, he will be a target," Didu said.
Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the government was not aware of the issue.
"But if people talk, how can we stop them talking?" he said.
The country's foreign ministry said it would not advise volunteers to go to the Middle East and wage war against Israel, but it also could not stop its citizens from traveling.
"If someone has a good intention, just say `in the name of God' and go," foreign affairs spokesman Desra Percaya said.
He added that the government advised all Indonesian citizens to avoid travel to the Middle East due to the conflict.
In Canberra, Human Services Minister Joe Hockey said the government was not shrugging off reports of the AMYM's plans.
"The minister for foreign affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs are investigating what is reported in the papers today and we are treating it very, very seriously," Hockey said.
But he said the report was unsurprising as militant Muslim groups had long identified Australia as a terrorist target.
"That has no impact in so far as these people have targeted us for a long period of time," Hockey said. "You only need to look at Bali, and that was before any major escalation of the conflict in Lebanon and Israel. We are a target, we always have been a target, and we will be for a very long period of time."