Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Java City of Solo emerges as haven for religious radicals
Jakarta - Solo has long been known as a laid-back city, home to ancient temples, beautiful batik cloth work and good food. But the Central Java city, also known as Surakarta, and its surroundings have taken on a sinister side recently - as a haven for religious radicals.
On Thursday, terrorist leader Noordin Top was killed in a nine-hour siege on a house on its outskirts. No one knows how long the 41-year-old Malaysian had been hiding there. He narrowly escaped a police dragnet last month in Temanggung, which is a three-hour drive from Solo. He also had a local guide in Solo, Bagus Budi Pranoto, one of three other men shot dead. Bagus, alias Urwah, had been released from prison about two years ago, after serving three years for involvement in the 2003 bombing of Jakarta's Marriott Hotel. He returned home to Sukorharjo village, 10km outside Solo, said security expert Noor Huda Ismail. Urwah began downloading extremist documentaries and recording them onto VCDs for distribution. He also produced in-house jihad documentaries in Indonesian, including titles such as...The United States Of Losers,' often lecturing youngsters and housewives from the area.
Urwah is also close to one son of extremist preacher Abu Bakar Bashir. The presence of Bashir and the Al-Mukmin religious school in Ngruki on Solo's edge encouraged the proliferation of radicals. A number of those involved in terror attacks in Indonesia are Al-Mukmin alumni, which Bashir co-founded in the 1970s. Bashir has said the use of bombs to wage jihad, or holy war, against those attacking Islam is not proper in Indonesia. He has also denied links to the radical Jemaah Islamiah group, from which Noordin split to set up his own group.
However, analysts say Bashir has endorsed these radical groups. Last month, he held a hero's funeral for two terror suspects shot dead by police in the Temanggung raid, where he pronounced them 'martyrs'. Bashir has close connections with all these groups and perhaps that's why they all gather there.'
Solo, a city of 500,000, has had a volatile past, however. In the 1960s, communists based themselves there and were purged from the city by the army. In 1998, on the eve of former president Suharto's downfall, mobs attacked government buildings and properties owned by Chinese-Indonesians. Now it seems radical Islamic groups are continuing this tradition. In fact, one group tried to drive American tourists out of Solo nine years ago. Others remain suspicious of the area's Christian churches.
Since the 1960s has been a place which both the communists and Muslim hard-liners felt they needed to take over.
Excerpt from Straits Times by Lynn Lee