Marianne Kearney, Jakarta – The Indonesian Islamic militant group Laskar Jihad had relocated from Maluku to Papua province where it was attacking churches and mosques, church sources said yesterday.
This made a mockery of the group's claims that it had disbanded after the October 12 Bali bombings, they said.
A handful of suspected Laskar Jihad members reportedly tried to burn down churches and incite Christian reprisalsin West Papua's capital city of Jayapura one week ago. However, when the masked men tried to enter villages in Abepura and Sentani, suburbs of Jayapura, they were attacked by local people, with at least three of the men being severely beaten.
The attackers admitted they had been paid to attack Christians and their churches, said Pastor Menusaafar from Jayapura.
"They admitted to witnesses that they had been paid to burn churches or else a mosque," he said. "They said that if they were successful they would get a bonus of 15 million rupiah ($3000) if they burned a church or mosque and 50 million rupiah if they killed a priest."
The three men admitted to the witnesses that they were from Laskar Jihad and that their commander had moved from Ambon where Laskar Jihad and other Muslim groups have fought against Christian militias for the past two years.
Laskar Jihad announced it was disbanding just over two weeks ago and several hundred members left Ambon, the main island in Maluku.
However analysts say the timing of their move suggests that military elements, who had long been suspected of backing the militants had advised them to go underground in the wake of the Bali massacre.
The Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy (ELS-HAM), a Papuan non-government group, said several hundred Laskar militants had arrived in Jayapura after the group announced it was disbanding.
At least 300 hundred Laskar members had arrived last Saturday, from Ambon, said Aloi Renwarin from ELS-HAM. He said his organisation estimated there were around 3000 Laskar members spread across several towns in Papua such as Sorong, Manokwiri and Jayapura.
However police denied that Laskar Jihad members had tried to attack Christian villages. "They were just men looking for work and people suspected maybe they were trying to stir up conflict so they beat them," said spokesman Yosep Iswanto.