Indonesia Reins in Laskar Jihad

In a surprising turn of events, the radical Laskar Jihad has been banned from the Moluccas and its combative leader placed under arrest. Jafar Umar Thalib, head of the militant Laskar Jihad, was arrested and brought in for questioning by the Indonesia National Police when he landed at Surabaya on his way back to Jakarta from Ambon on May 4. He was charged with inciting Muslims to violence in the attack on Soya village, a 20-minute drive from Ambon, April 28 in which 14 people were killed, about 30 homes of Christians burned, and the Soya Protestant church burned for the second time.

Local Christians and Muslims signed the Malino II peace accord brokered by the government on February 12, but Thalib denounced it. He reportedly urged a crowd of several thousand at the Alfatah Mosque in Ambon April 26 to take up "guns and spears and daggers" and fight the Christians. The attack on Soya came about 36 hours later. Then in a radio speech broadcast May 1-3 he told Maluku Muslims to "write out their wills...get out all your weapons...[and] fight against them [the Christians] to the last drop of blood."

Thankfully for Christians, the government has now banned the Laskar Jihad from the Moluccas, although how the government will oversee its evacuation is another matter. It is estimated to have about 9,000 members, but no one knows how much actual support it has among Moluccan Muslims.