JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Bomb squads checked churches yesterday, and hotel security guards in Santa Claus suits searched cars after police warned that al Qaeda-linked militants might be plotting Christmas terror attacks in this predominantly Muslim nation.
Christmas Eve services and other festivities proceeded without incident, government officials and religious leaders said.
Though most of Indonesia’s 190 million Muslims practice a moderate form of their faith, attacks on Christians have increased in recent years amid a global rise in Islamic radicalism.
Suicide bombings and the beheadings of three Christian schoolgirls two months ago have many people on edge.
Maj. Gen. Firman Gani, the Jakarta police chief, said terrorists from the Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah “could carry out” an attack on Christmas to retaliate for the death last month of its bomb-making specialist, Azahari bin Husin, who was shot in a police raid.
Jemaah Islamiyah is blamed for near-simultaneous Christmas Eve church bombings in 2000 and five suicide attacks targeting Westerners since, including Oct. 1 assaults on the resort island of Bali. Altogether, the attacks killed more than 260 people, many of them foreign tourists.
Authorities said 47,000 soldiers and police were deployed across Indonesia to guard houses of worship, hotels, clubs, restaurants and shopping centers.
At the glitzy Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the capital, security guards dressed as Santas searched beneath cars for explosives.
Police Lt. Sulianto said 80 bomb squads checked churches in Jakarta and in the neighboring cities of Bekasi, Tangerang and Depok hours before midnight Mass.
“Of course we’re worried,” said one Christian, Beco Rawis. “We’ll still go to church, but we might just wait until tomorrow.” The United States, Australia and several other governments have urged their citizens against traveling to Indonesia during the holidays, saying the chance for a terror attack is very high.