JAKARTA: The discovery of a bomb plot against the US embassy in Indonesia indicates that the government’s reluctance to tackle a rising tide of intolerance is emboldening Islamist groups, analysts said on Monday.
Indonesia has been applauded for a terrorism crackdown launched a decade ago after bombings in Bali killed 202 people. There have been no successful attacks against western targets since suicide blasts against Jakarta hotels in 2009.
However, anti-terror police at the weekend arrested 11 members of an Islamic group allegedly targeting the US embassy, a consulate in East Java, and a Jakarta building that houses the offices of US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan.
Police found explosives and a bomb-making manual when they arrested the men whom they said were from a group called HASMI in locations across the main island of Java.
The group had been in part driven to plan the attacks by anger at a US-made anti-Islam film which last month sparked protests across the Muslim world, police said on Monday.
It was the first time that HASMI, which had previously taken part in anti-Christian protests but is not a banned group, had been linked to any violent plots.
“What we are seeing is non-violent groups taking the next step into violence,” Todd Elliott, a Jakarta-based security analyst at Concord Consulting, said.
The apparent transformation is a sign that hardliners have been encouraged by the authorities’ failure to crack down on groups who have targeted minorities, said Noor Huda Ismail from the Institute for International Peace Building.
“There has been an escalation in the transformation of intolerance into terrorism,” he said.
Indonesia’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion but rights groups say violence against minorities has been escalating since 2008.
In August a mob of Sunnis, Indonesia’s majority sect, hacked to death two men from the Shia minority in the East Java town of Sampang and torched dozens of homes.
And in one of the most high-profile cases of violence against minorities in recent years, a 1,500-strong mob carried out a frenzied attack on members of the Ahmadiyah sect in western Java in February last year, killing three of them.
Rights groups reacted with outrage after 12 leaders of the attack were given light sentences — a teenager who smashed a victim’s skull with a stone was sentenced to just three months in jail.
Human Rights Watch noted last month that in the few cases where violence has resulted in prosecutions, the authorities had often failed to charge all those involved, and punishments had been remarkably light.
Elliott said the weak response “offers no deterrent effect and some groups will see this as tacit approval to engage in violence”.
He said that in a country where 90 per cent of the 240-million population is Muslim, the government did not want to appear anti-Islamic and among local Muslim leaders there was a particular unwillingness to crack down.
“There are also allegations that some of the leaders of hardline groups are connected to influential figures in the government,” he said.
The government last month said it was intensifying efforts to tackle extremism and unveiled a “deradicalisation blueprint”. However, the plan was short on detail and analysts slammed it as empty rhetoric.
The head of Indonesia’s anti-terror agency, Ansyaad Mbai, conceded that the failure to take a hard line on religious intolerance could encourage violence.—AFP