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Saturday, 4 May, 2002, 20:22 GMT 21:22 UK
Indonesia arrests top Islamic militant
Mourners lay out the bodies of Christians killed near Ambon
A peace deal for the Moluccas looks under threat
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By Richard Galpin
BBC Jakarta correspondent

The Indonesian police have arrested the leader of one of the country's most militant Islamic organisations.

Jafar Umar Thalib, head of Laskar Jihad, was picked up after leaving the Moluccan Islands where his organisation has been accused of involvement in a massacre of Christian villagers last weekend.

Jafar Umar Thalib is now being held by the police in the capital, Jakarta.

At a news conference, the national police spokesman said Mr Jafar had been accused of inciting his supporters to commit crime.

Muslim militants
Religious violence has claimed 6,000 lives in the past three years
He has also been accused of insulting both the president and vice-president.

If formally charged and found guilty, he could face up to seven years in prison.

Both allegations stem from a speech given by Jafar Umar Thalib just over a week ago of which the police have video and audio recordings.

In the speech in front of thousands of Muslims in the city of Ambon, the provincial capital of the Moluccan Islands, Mr Jafar called for a renewed holy war against the Christian community.

He told the crowd to prepare their weapons for the conflict.

Two days later, a Muslim mob attacked a Christian village on the outskirts of the city killing at least 12 people, including women and a young baby.

Dozens of houses and a historic church were also burned down.

Peace deal blow

The attack was a serious blow to the peace agreement signed in February by local Christian and Muslim leaders which it was hoped would end the three-year religious conflict in the region which has claimed at least 6,000 lives.

Initially, it seemed the authorities were scared to take action against Laskar Jihad who know there was strong circumstantial evidence.

Two years ago, Jafar Umar Thalib sent thousands of Laskar Jihad fighters to the Moluccan Islands leading to a major escalation in the conflict.

But the government and security forces did nothing to stop them.

Now, finally, they have moved against Mr Jafar.

But it has already sparked a violent reaction in Ambon City.

At least two people were killed and more than a dozen injured after a Muslim crowd went on the rampage.

Buildings have also been set on fire.

See also:

28 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Laskar Jihad?
28 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Muslim mob attacks Indonesia Christians
26 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Moluccas brace for more trouble
25 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Moluccan Muslims set fire to church
22 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Moluccan separatist charged with treason
12 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Moluccan peace deal
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