Buddhists calm facing threats

The Jakarta Post, August 13 2013

Jakarta, Indonesia -- The recent bombing at the Ekayana Buddhist Temple in West Jakarta will unlikely be the last terror attack in Indonesia to avenge the ongoing persecution of Rohingya Muslims in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, said top terrorism analysts.

Terrorism expert and former member of the radical group Islamic State of Indonesia (NII) Al Chaidar told The Jakarta Post on Monday that the bombing, which occurred four days before Idul Fitri, was likely the first of what would be a series of attacks targeting Buddhists in the country.

“The perpetrator is targeting Indonesian Buddhists to push the government to take action and help the Rohingyas,” he said.

Reuters reported on Monday that attempts to bring stability to Myanmar’s Rakhine state could be unraveling, after police opened fire on Rohingya Muslims for the third time in two months, escalating tensions in a region beset by religious violence for the last year. The renewed tensions come despite the Myanmar government’s efforts to bring calm to Rakhine state, after two eruptions of communal violence by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists last year killed at least 192 people and left 140,000 homeless, mostly Rohingya.

Al Chaidar said that it was possible that the next attacks would occur in major cities like Medan and Surabaya, which have significant Buddhist populations.

He added that the perpetrators of the temple bombing were likely linked to the Abu Umar group, the only fraction of the NII movement that is concerned with the Rohingya issue.

Meanwhile, Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), said that there would probably be other attacks targeting Buddhists in the future, but they would not necessarily be executed in the same way.

“The groups that have discussed or planned attacks like this [targeting Buddhists] have very low capacity. So I think it is probably unlikely that they will be able to pull off some spectacular bombing attempt. But I do think that we will see more attacks in the future,” she said.

Sidney added that there had been four separate bombing plots targeting Buddhists before the temple bombing in Jakarta.

She noted that at least four terrorist groups had claimed to have planned to attack Buddhists because Buddhists in Myanmar were waging war against Muslims, including the one that calls itself al-Qaeda Indonesia in Surakarta, Central Java, and the terror suspects behind the foiled bomb attack on the Myanmar Embassy in Jakarta in May.

She said, however, that she could not be certain that the perpetrator of the Ekayana Vihara bombing was linked to any of these groups.

“It is possible that the perpetrators were linked to one of these groups that have previously discussed bombing Buddhists, but it also could be a group that we have never heard of before that was also angered by what was going on in Myanmar. I don’t think we can draw a conclusion yet,” she said.

Facing the threat, Ekayana Vihara advisor Ponijan Liaw said that most worshippers in the temple, and probably most Buddhists, were not afraid. He added that they believed something bad would not happen to them if they did not do bad deeds.

“We do not feel threatened. The vihara is now open as usual with no police guards and everyone praying like normal,” he said.

He added that regular activity in the vihara resumed on Wednesday when the police line had been taken down.

Benny G. Setiono, chairman of the Chinese-Indonesian Association (INTI), said the organization would not take any precautionary measures even though most Buddhist adherents in the country were of Chinese descent.

“I think this matter is more about religion, and it will not turn into an ethnic issue. So far, we all just are carrying on as usual. Nothing has changed since the bombing,” he told the Post.

The bombing at Ekayana Temple happened on Aug. 4 during a sermon when many worshippers were in and around the temple. Based on police information, there were two bomb circuits, one of which contained a message stating, “Kami Menjawab Jeritan Rohingya” (We are responding to the cries of the Rohingyas).