Police Arrests 18 Suspected Militants in Security Sweep Before Christmas

The National Police said it has arrested as many as 18 people with suspected links to militant groups ahead of Christmas and New Year as part of an annual attempt to reduce risk of attacks during year-end festivities.

While the police conceded that there was no evidence of a specific plot, the men detained by the police’s counter-terrorism unit had links to past terror attacks.

“We’re doing a pre-emptive strike,” National Police chief Tito Karnavian told reporters, as quoted by Reuters . “The majority of them have links to previous incidents (and people) who we had arrested earlier.”

Karnavian elaborated that 12 of the 18 people were caught in South Sumatra, four in West Kalimantan, one in Malang in East Java and one in Surabaya in the same province.

The stepping up of security ahead of Christmas and New Year is a measure that has been carried out annually by the police since the year 2000 when multiple attacks on churches in Jakarta and elsewhere on Christmas Eve in 2000, killed nearly 20 people.

According to police spokesman Setyo Wasisto, the Indonesian anti-terrorism law allows police to investigate arrested suspects and hold them for seven days before determining whether they will be designated suspects or released.

The police counter-terrorism unit, known as Densus 88, has had to work hard over the years to combat terrorist attacks in Indonesia often aimed at foreign, Christian and government targets. Among the most high-profile attacks was the 2002 Bali bombing that killed 202 people.

More recently, Indonesia has witnessed smaller-scale attacks such as the Thamrin street bomb-attack in Jakarta last year, which had been linked to the Islamic State.

 

See: MUI Issues Fatwa Banning Muslims Partaking in Christmas Festivities

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Ardi Wirdana is a Jakarta-based journalist covering a variety of topics including business, policy, and news in Indonesia.