Anti-Church Violence Spreads in Southeast Asia

A recent wave of bombings in the capitals of Indonesia and the Philippines indicates that terrorism has emerged as a real threat to political and economic stability in Southeast Asia.

Muslim terrorist organizations are thought by many to be responsible for two waves of church bombings in Jakarta and other Indonesian cities in late December, according to a opinion issued by Jane's Intelligence Review.

Eighteen church-goers were killed in the first series of bombings, on Dec. 24, during the celebration of mass. Another 22 were killed in the second wave of attacks, on Dec. 30. Besides wounding almost 150 others, the blasts cumulatively spread panic across the cities.

In Jakarta and other cities, a group calling itself the "Defenders of Islam" (FPI in its Indonesia acronym) has grown increasingly bold in attacks on nightclubs and discotheques, frequented by westerners and local women, which they claim should be closed down as unislamic. Those responsible for the bombings are believed to have links to the Laskar Jihad (Army of Holy War), led by Jaffar Omar Thalib, whose followers, numbering several thousand, have been at the forefront of fighting against Christians in Ambon and the Moluccas.

Indonesian Minister of Defense Mohammad Mahfud was quick to caution against linking the bombings to Muslim activists. However, two suspects arrested after the 24 December attacks admitted to having undergone military training outside the city of Jalalabad in Afghanistan between 1990-92 and are believed to be members of a group linked to the Laskar.

Meanwhile, similar bombings in the Philippines have been blamed on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a leading separatist group that has been seeking to set up an Islamic state in majority Muslim areas of southern Mindanao, though the MILF has denied responsibility.