May 31, 2012
The bishop of Ambon has applauded the capture of seven suspects linked to a series of bombings in September 2011, saying the arrests are particularly welcome as the city prepares to host Indonesia's biggest Qur'an reading event.
The National Musabaqah Tilawatil al-Qur'an (MTQ), founded in 1940 by the eminent Muslim organisation Nahdlatul Ulama, will take place in Ambon from June 8th-19th 2012, with religious leaders from 33 provinces expected to attend.
''As the bishop in Ambon, I am pleased to say that I am proud of the Maluku Police for their successful arrests. It's a blessing to the people of Maluku who are currently preparing for the MTQ in June 2012,'' Petrus Canisius Mandagi told Khabar Southeast Asia on May 25th.
"Those who wanted Ambon to remain in a state of conflict must be discouraged,'' he said, urging greater religious tolerance among Ambonese.
Maluku Police Chief Brigadier General Syarief Gunawan presented six suspects, ranging in age from 19 to 25, at a press conference at Maluku Police Headquarters on May 21st. The group is accused of involvement in four bomb attacks in Ambon City in the wake of communal clashes in September 2011.
On May 23rd, police nabbed a 31-year-old man on the neighbouring island of Seram. He is suspected of having designed explosive devices used in the attacks.
The devices, which ultimately injured no one, exploded outside a church, at a bus terminal, and near a provincial government building in the weeks following deadly violence on September 11th, 2011.
Riots broke out that day after a rumour circulated by text message that a Muslim motorcycle taxi driver who died in a traffic accident had actually been tortured and killed by Christians.
Eight people were killed and 67 injured in the clashes, and some 500 houses were destroyed, sending thousands to temporary camps for internally displaced people.
The central government reacted fast, dispatching riot troops and conducting rigorous community outreach to prevent a repeat of sectarian warfare on Ambon from 1999-2002, which left more than 5,000 people dead.
An aggravating factor in those years was the influx of militant Muslims from other parts of Indonesia, but there is no evidence of that this time.
"They are not outsiders; in fact, they live in Ambon and Seram," Syarief said of the suspects.
"The terror bombings began after clashes occurred among residents in Ambon," he told the May 21st press conference. "After a lengthy search, we have finally succeeded in arresting the perpetrators."
Police also seized two motorcycles and a number of homemade bombs as evidence.
With the investigation still underway, fresh clashes broke out in Ambon during a May 15th ceremony for Pattimura Day, which commemorates Thomas Matulessy, an independence hero from Ambon who died in battle against the Dutch in 1817. Fifty people were hospitalised after a brawl broke out on the sidelines of a parade.
Nevertheless, in the wake of the arrests, Bishop Mandagi called for hope and faith among communities in the area. He said the arrests show the Maluku police have been working hard to maintain safety in the region, and the government should use this event as an instrument to continue providing security for people in Ambon.
Separately, Ishak Tiwery, an Ambonese youth leader who was present at one of the 2011 bombings, said he sees a lot of improvement at Long Reef Village, where he currently resides – especially in comparison with 1999, when religious conflict in Ambon began to spread.
He praised the police in Ambon, saying many criminals have been arrested and now face legal proceedings.
"Although the bombs were thrown at our church, we were not provoked. We present the incident to authorities. We seriously expect the police to bring all the perpetrators to justice. Not only because of MTQ, but because everyday people need security and comfort,'' he said.