Gunfight over Muslim cleric leaves six dead on Java road

Police present weapons recovered from slain supporters of Muslim cleric Rizieq Shihab after the early morning shootout. REUTERS
Police present weapons recovered from slain supporters of Muslim cleric Rizieq Shihab after the early morning shootout. REUTERS

At least six supporters of a firebrand Indonesian Muslim cleric were shot dead yesterday as they tried to reach a police station near Jakarta where their leader was to be questioned.

Police commander Fadil Imran said officers were forced to defend themselves when 10 supporters of Rizieq Shihab attacked them at a Java toll road 50 kilometers east of the capital. “When our officers were following the cars of his followers, they attacked us using guns and sharp objects,” Imran said, police officers opened fire in response, leaving six people dead. Four escaped during the early morning shootout. Shihab, 55, was to be questioned yesterday for allegedly violating coronavirus restrictions last month when tens of thousands of his followers gathered at his home for the wedding of his daughter.

The charismatic leader of the Islamic Defender Front had only returned to Indonesia days earlier from Saudi Arabia, where he had fled in 2017 after police named him as a suspect in a pornography case. The allegations were untrue, his supporters say, and were an attempt to discredit him, in any event, Rizieq’s exile appears to have done little to diminish his appeal. Tens of thousands of his supporters had flocked to Jakarta’s main airport to welcome him home, also defying coronavirus regulations banning crowds.

Shihab was a key figure in mass rallies in Jakarta in 2016 against then governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama over allegations he insulted the Koran. Basuki, a Christian of Chinese descent, was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy. In the weeks since his return, Rizieq has aired plans to embark on a “moral crusade” and has met opposition figures.

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