Indonesia has tightened security ahead of Christmas celebrations, by deploying thousands of security forces to guard churches across the archipelago.
Agus Rianto, National Police spokesman, said more than 150,000 police and military and security personnel will be deployed to guard nearly 34,000 Christian churches across the country.
The extra security, labled a “candle operation,” will last from Dec. 24 to Jan. 2, he said.
Rianto called on Indonesians to help officers keep the Christmas season peaceful and to report any suspicious activity.
He also said police surveillance is prioritizing 13 regions, including Jakarta, North Sumatra, North Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara, South Kalimantan, Papua and West Papua.
Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti said an anti-terror squad arrested nine suspects between Dec. 18-20 for allegedly plotting attacks during Christmas.
“They are IS supporters,” Haiti said, reported Detik.com.
According to police, the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) has spread to eastern Indonesia, where in April, a terror suspect was arrested in Flores, in the predominantly Catholic province of East Nusa Tenggara. In August, three IS members were arrested in Alor island, located off the eastern tip of Flores.
Earlier this month, the military warned that Labuan Bajo, a small fishing town on Flores, had become the gateway for IS in Indonesia.
However, Bishop Hubertus Leteng of Ruteng told ucanews.com that the security situation in the area appears normal.
“There is no threat so far. But we expect the police to work optimally so that Christians can celebrate Christmas peacefully,” he said.
Father Yohanes Djonga, parish priest of Christ the Redeemer Church in Hepuba-Jayawijaya, in Papua’s Jayapura Diocese, hoped authorities would ensure security at places of worship during the holiday season.
“In the past few years we celebrated Christmas peacefully. We hope for the same atmosphere this year,” he told ucanews.com
On Christmas Eve in 2000, several churches were bombed by the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group, killing 16 people and injuring 96 others.