Indonesian church bombing sparks fears of escalation in religious violence

Indonesian church bombing sparks fears of increasing religious violence. Guangdong riots over ‘landgrabs’. US drone crashes in Kismayo, Somalia. Fresh clashes hit southern Philippines . Shooting at ‘CIA station’ in Kabul. All this and more in today’s security briefing...
Josephine Whitaker
26 September 2011

Twenty people were injured in a suspected suicide bombing at a church in Central Java, Indonesia, shortly after the Sunday service ended yesterday, sparking fears that such violence could spread.

The bomber, reported to have been disguised as a church-goer at the Bethel Injil church in Kepunton, Solo, is believed to have been the only fatality of the attack. Although no group has yet claimed responsibility, national police spokesman Anton Bachrul Alam said today that DNA results confirming the identity of the bomber are expected tomorrow.

The openSecurity verdict: The attack prompted President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to give a televised address to the nation last night, in which he acknowledged that terrorism remains a grave threat in Indonesia and suggested that the bomber was likely linked to jihadist groups.

Some analysts point to a link between Sunday’s church bombing and recent sectarian clashes in Ambon, provincial capital of the Maluku islands, which killed five and left eighty injured. Others, however, believe that although there may be signs that radical groups are trying to capitalize on the violence, it is not possible to make a definitive connection yet. Sidney Jones, terrorism analyst at International Crisis Group, points to radical websites blaming “Crusader Christians” for recent unrest, but insists that it is too early to make a connection.

Whatever the case may be, the attack is causing consternation about a potential rise in religiously-motivated attacks in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. While Indonesian authorities are widely recognised to have cracked down successfully on extremist Islamist groups that have targeted popular tourist destinations, hotels and nightclubs, the government is facing increased criticism that it is not doing enough to contain attacks aimed at intimidating religious minorities.

Indonesia has a history of conflict between its Muslim and Christian populations, with 5,000 killed and 500,000 displaced on account of such violence between 1992 and 2002. Sunday’s bombing comes after a series of violent attacks on religious minorities across Indonesia. In February, protestors burned churches after a Christian convicted of blasphemy against Islam was given what they saw as a lenient prison term. In a separate incident, three men were beaten to death and six others injured when a 1,500-strong crowd set upon members of the Ahmadiyah Muslim sect to stop them from worshipping.

The challenge of bringing violence against religious minorities under control is not a new one for Yudhoyono, but with government approval ratings dropping over a perceived inability to tackle corruption, there may be fresh impetus to address this problem.

Guangdong riots over ‘landgrabs’

Police last week struggled to quell four days of violent protests over alleged government land grabs in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, eventually bringing the situation under control on Saturday, leaving more than ten security personnel injured.

The protests began on Wednesday in Lufeng city, Guangdong province, after claims that the local government has been seizing villagers’ land for development without their consent, and without providing any form of compensation. Local farmers claim that government officials worked with developers to seize hundreds of hectares of land for development that was previously used for agriculture. An estimated 1,000 protestors attacked local businesses throughout Wednesday and Thursday. Several were also treated at local hospitals after being beaten, according to local reports. In nearby Longguang, villagers reportedly smashed down concrete walls ringing farmland seized four years ago for development, reclaiming it for agriculture.

Guangdong is one of China’s most important manufacturing regions, and is widely seen as the economic powerhouse behind the country’s rapid development. Guangzhou, the provincial capital, is home to roughly 13 million people, including millions of migrant workers from rural areas attracted by the promise of work.

Last week’s protests are the second such incident in three months, and reflect a increasing concern in China over corruption and growing inequality. In June, mistreatment of a pregnant migrant worker led to the torching of government buildings and police vehicles in the city of Zengcheng. While other parts of China have witnessed similar incidents over the last year, Guangdong is increasingly seen as a hotbed of workers’ protest, as the country’s poor become increasingly conscious of their rights.

Although central authorities have tried to introduce standard rules for large-scale land acquisitions, these are yet to be fully implemented at the local level, leaving a legal grey area open to exploitation by voracious entrepreneurs. 

US drone crashes in Kismayo, Somalia

An unmanned US drone has crashed in the port town of Kismayo, in the al-Shabaab-controlled south of Somalia, while at least three targets have been hit, residents report. No deaths or injuries have been reported so far, although the BBC reports that al-Shabaab is patrolling the streets of Kismayo to prevent people other than their fighters from using hospitals.

Although one rebel commander announced on the group’s Kismayo radio station that “[al-Shabaab] did not target it but it fell down,” some locals claim that the drone was brought down by al-Shabaab militants using anti-aircraft missiles. Several sources report that the downed aircraft has been taken to an unspecified location by the rebel group.

Kismayo is a key hub for al-Shabaab, used to channel supplies to all areas under their control. The incident comes after residents have reported an increase in the frequency of drones flying over Kismayo.

Although no country has claimed the drone as its own, the US recently announced its intention to increase its use of drones in Somalia and Yemen, leading most analysts to conclude that this is indeed an American drone. Last week, the Washington Post reported that the US was building a ring of secret drone bases in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula as part of a campaign against al-Qaeda activities in the region. The article claimed that the US had flown drones over Somalia and Yemen from Djibouti, the Seychelles and Ethiopia.  

Southern Somalia is currently in the grip of one of the world’s worst food crises, with around 12 million people at risk of starvation across the Horn of Africa. The febrile security situation in southern Somalia makes distributing aid in the area extremely difficult, often meaning that those most in need do not receive support.

Fresh clashes hit southern Philippines

Fifteen people have been killed and at least six more wounded during a clash between government troops and an alleged separatist group in Sulu province, in the southern Philippines.

The clash began yesterday when a group of armed men attacked troops guarding a school construction site and road project in the town of Talipao. Thirteen suspected militants and two soldiers were killed during two hours of violence, according to military commander Romeo Tanalgo. Local security officials claim the attackers were members of Awliyah, an armed group linked to Abu Sayyaf – a terrorist organisation thought to be responsible for some of the worst attacks in the southern Philippines conflict. Authorities believe that the attack was motivated by the group’s opposition to the allegedly US-funded development project.

Muslim separatist groups claim many parts of the southern Philippines as their ancestral homelands, and have fought for decades for autonomy from the Manila government.

Shooting at ‘CIA station’ in Kabul

One American citizen has been shot dead and another wounded by an Afghan employee at a US compound, also thought to be a CIA station, in the Afghan capital Kabul. The identity of the shooter and his motives remain unclear. Gavin Sundwall, a US embassy spokesman, described the attacker as “a lone gunman” and said that his motive was “still under investigation.”

According to a BBC source at the Afghan presidential palace, an Afghan National Army vehicle was passing the compound, in the most secure part of Kabul near the US embassy and Nato military bases, at the time of the attack. CIA-employed guards opened fire on the vehicle, believing it was involved in the attack.

Kabul, considered relatively stable, has seen a rash of violent attacks over the past weeks. Today’s shooting comes just weeks after an attack on the US embassy and government buildings in Kabul left 25 people dead. In another sign of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, the chief of the country’s High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was killed in a suicide attack in Kabul earlier this week.

Some analysts believe that the increase in attacks in the Afghan capital are part of a plot to derail Nato plan to transfer security responsibility to Afghan security forces by 2014. However, Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently told reporters that although the Taliban were trying to test Nato's plan, “transition is on track and it will continue.”

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