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Laskar Jihad

Laskar Jihad, a violent Muslim paramilitary extremist group renowned for its fanaticism and brutality that aimed to eliminate Christians from the Moluccas and Sulawesi Island, announced it had disbanded after the October 2002 Bali bombing.

Jaffar Umar Thalib, the commander of Laskar Jihad, was arrested on 04 May 2002 in Surabaya as he was en route from Ambon. Jaffar was charged with inciting violence and threatening the life of the Indonesian President during a speech in Ambon. His followers, who number between 3,000 and 10,000, are well drilled, heavily armed and ferociously loyal. Among the plethora of radical Islamic groups that have formed in Indonesia since the three-decade dictatorship of Suharto collapsed in 1998, Laskar Jihad stands out. According to persistence reports, hundreds of non-Indonesian Muslims - including, it is believed, Al Qaeda operatives - have trained at camps run by Laskar Jihad in the jungles of Sulawesi, and American officials are convinced that Al Qaeda "sleeper cells" still exist there.

The Laskar Jihad is different. Its mission was, and still is, to defend Muslims against Christians, originally in Maluku and more recently in Sulawesi as well. In December 2000, over 500 armed Laskar Jihad militants attacked cafes in Solo and demanded that they close during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan. Laskar Jihad members have received training in Afghanistan. Laskar Jihad, Indonesia's largest radical group, remained a concern as a continuing source of domestic instability.

In May 2000 fighters from the Laskar Jihad - a group based in Java outside of the Moluccas - arrived on the islands, obtained arms, and began attacking Christian villages. Since then, the balance tipped decidedly against the Christian population there. The fighters from the Laskar Jihad, who took control of the other Muslim militia groups fighting on the Islands, had access to sophisticated weapons and communications equipment, and have thus took the fighting to new levels. These more-extremist groups from outside the Moluccas, recruited purportedly to protect the Muslim population, have since declared their aim of "cleansing" the Islands of Christians, and have succeeded in clearing Christians out of villages throughout the Moluccas, either by killing them or driving them away under the threat of being killed. By October 2000, there were reports that hundreds and perhaps thousands of Christians were forced to convert to Islam or be killed, especially on the islands of Seram, Kesui, and Teor. There are allegations also that some, both men and women, have been forced to undergo circumcision as part of their "conversion."

In general Islam in the country traditionally has been moderate. According to leading Muslim scholars and leaders, the Muslim community still is predominantly (80 percent) moderate; however, with the removal of Soeharto-era restrictions on religious organization and expression, there has been a resurgence--or a greater vocalization--of advocacy for an Islamic state. An estimated 20 percent of the country's Muslims consider themselves to be fundamentalists and advocate establishment of an Islamic state, which would make it obligatory for Muslims to follow Shari'a law. The majority of these Muslims (16 to 18 percent) pursue their goal through peaceful political and educational means. A small, but vocal minority (2 to 4 percent) condones coercive measures and has resorted to violence. Fundamentalist groups advocating coercion and resorting to violence include: Laskar Jihad, Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Hizbullah Front, Laskar Mujahidan, and the Campus Association of Muslim Students (HAMMAS).

In Indonesia, in the Malocas and Posa and Chilewesi, local people have experienced horrifying suffering at the hands of Laskar Jihad, and extremist group trying to impose its brand of Islam on the local people. And both Christians and Muslims, ethnic minorities have had their homes, their villages destroyed when they refused to bow to the demands of Laskar Jihad. And we have heard about this for years.

Not many people cared until recently, when reports suggested that Laskar Jihad has ties with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Laskar Jihad still operates in these islands and continues to attempt to impose a Taliban-style version of Islam on the local people.




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