Christian Services in Indonesia Held Despite Terror Fears

Dec 31, 1969 07:00 PM EST

JAKARTA, Indonesia- With continued violence striking the Jakartan communities, parishioners fear they might become targets at Christmas in the world's most populous Muslim nation. However, the Australian Rev. Peter Holden, 67, remained in the nation, vowing for his Christmas services to resume. Holden expected a usual mix of foreigners and Indonesians to enter his Jakartan Community Church.

"There was never a doubt we would hold a Christmas service," Holden said, adding that most churches will do the same despite the threat of attacks by Islamic militants. "We are not about to let our program be governed by other people's agenda."

Christians representing only 8 percent of the 210 million people in Indonesia, have been prime targets for Islamic radicals in recent years. A string of church bombs in 11 cities on Christmas Eve two years ago left 19 people dead. The bombings, blamed on the al-Qaida-linked terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, have been coupled with the Oct. 12 Bali bombings which killed nearly 200 people.

Earlier this month, police said several men arrested in the Dec. 5 deadly bombing of a McDonald's restaurant were planning to attack churches on Christmas Eve.

Police said the alleged bombers are also linked to Jemaah Islamiyah and planned to buy 50 detonators for the church attacks. Police said they found TNT, sketches of a church and bomb-making books in raids on suspects' homes.

On Friday, the U.S. Embassy warned that more bombings in Indonesia were possible during the holidays and advised Americans to avoid churches, nightclubs and shopping centers. The British and Australian embassies also have upgraded their travel warnings.

Police said Monday they would guard churches, shopping centers, tourist resorts and embassies until New Year's. Leaders of some Muslim organizations that adhere to religious tolerance also have promised to lend a hand in protecting churches.

"We have to be more alert, since we have some past experiences," police spokesman Lt. Col. Zaenuri said.

Capt. Rusman, of the Bandung police in West Java, said his officers would search churches for bombs before Christmas services. "It is better to sweep and clean the churches and their surrounding areas to make sure those building are safe." he said.

In the city of Makassar on Sulawesi, where the McDonald's blast occurred, thousands of Muslim and Christian youths will help guard 35 churches as part of an anti-violence campaign run by the Makassar Youth Group.

Churches in Makassar will also take their own precautions, including hiring their own private security, conducting body searches and barring parishioners from bringing bags into the services.

By Paulina C.