Mon, Dec 25, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Indonesian police sent to churches

BOMB FEARS Both the US and Australia warned of a 'serious' and 'credible' risk of terrorist attacks over the holiday season, warnings that can hurt the economy


Tens of thousands of police were deployed at churches across Indonesia yesterday amid warnings by Western nations that Islamic militants may be plotting Christmas bombings.

Indonesian officials downplayed the bulletins, which have become something of a tradition themselves since Christmas Eve bombings at churches across the world's most populous Muslim nation in 2000 killed 19 people.

The US embassy in Jakarta and Australia warned that the threat of an attack over the holiday season was "serious" and "credible" and that foreigners could be targeted, but did not say on what the alert was based on.

"The Australians and the Americans can say what they want, that is democracy," Indonesia's police spokesman Colonel I Ketut Untung Yoga Ana.

"But up until now we have not seen any frightening signs," he said.

Nevertheless, 18,000 officers had been deployed at churches in and around Jakarta and tens of thousands more will be on duty elsewhere in the sprawling nation, he said.

Bomb squad officers planned to search Jakarta's Dutch-era cathedral for bombs and Christmas Eve worshippers at major churches would be frisked before they entered, he said.

The US and Australia, have long been posting generic warnings that terrorists are plotting attacks in Indonesia, but they routinely issue fresh bulletins ahead of the holiday season.

The warnings are not based on intelligence of a specific threat, but rather reflect a general belief that attacks by Muslim extremists are more likely to occur over Christmas.

Since the 2000 bombings, militants from the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group have staged four major attacks, the most deadly being the October 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali that killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists. The last terrorist attack in Indonesia was more than 14 months ago.

Indonesian officials do not like the terror warnings, saying they hurt the country's economy by frightening tourists and are unfair given the global nature of the threat of terrorism.

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