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Tuesday, 20 June, 2000, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Who are the Laskar Jihad?
Muslim rally
There have been repeated calls for a Jihad
The recent escalation of fighting in Indonesia's Moluccan Islands has been blamed on the arrival of more than 2,000 fighters from the Laskar Jihad.

The Laskar Jihad is a paramilitary organisation which has threatened to wage a holy war against the region's Christians.

The governor of the Moluccas has suggested allies of former president Suharto may be behind their infiltration into the islands.

The militants began pouring into the Moluccas in early May after receiving military training at a camp 2,500km away in Java, where the Laskar Jihad are based.

Their leader Jaffar Umar Thalib is believed to have close ties to the former regime of ex-dictator Suharto.

He has repeatedly warned his group will send 10,000 members to the islands to wage a jihad or holy war.
soldier, ambon
The security forces have failed to contain the fighting

Regional governor Saleh Latuconsina said it appeared the Laskar Jihad were "connected to some political elite'' because no one was stopping them travelling to the region.

And he told the French news agency AFP he believed the fighters could have been sent by people linked to Suharto loyalists.

Christian leaders have also repeatedly accused the security forces of turning a blind eye. Some people believe the military may even be arming them as well.


Religious fighting has claimed some 3,000 lives in both the Muslim and Christian communities since first erupting in January 1999.

But there had been a lull in the violence before the infiltration of the Laskar Jihad.
Smoke rises over Ambon
Violence erupted on the islands 18 months ago

The violence blew up again in the capital Ambon shortly after their arrival, leaving more than 30 dead.

Since then the jihad have been linked to several raids on Christian communities in the north of Halmahera island, in which at least 200 people have been killed and many more injured.

In each attack, the assailants swooped down from the sea and the mountains in pre-dawn raids.

Christian leaders said the attackers came in speed boats and were armed with military issue firearms.

Sociologist Tamrin Amal Tomagola said he understood the recent attacks had been carried out by jihad warriors from Java and South Sulawesi.

I have a strong suspicion that the rioters in Halmahera are linked to a group of political elite

Sociologist Tamrin Amal Tomagola

He also speculated that the unrest might be linked to the investigation of former president Suharto for alleged corruption and of army generals implicated in last year's violence in East Timor.

'Peaceful jihad'

Before their arrival in the Moluccas, the Laskar Jihad had accused President Abdurrahman Wahid of favouring the islands' Christians.
soldiers, ambon
Soldiers in Ambon were told to shoot snipers during May's violence

However, there appears to be some confusion over what the volunteers intend by their holy war.

Their leader, Mr Jaffar, has said their mission is to forge a spiritual form of jihad through preaching, not fighting.

But he has also warned more ominously that the volunteers are prepared for "attacks by enemies".


The warriors were trained at a military style camp at Munjul village near Bogor on Java.

Laskar Jihad set up the base on a seven-hectare plot of land belonging to an organisation called the Al Irsad Foundation.
Lashkar Jihad bases
The militants trained at Bogor

But the minister of religious affairs ordered them to disband in mid-April because of their questionable intentions in the Moluccas.

The militants handed in nearly 500 weapons to police before heading for the organisation's headquarters near Yogyakarta, in central Java.

But Mr Jaffa insisted days later that they would still go ahead with plans to deploy 10,000 volunteers in the Moluccas.

He also said that he would be visiting countries "such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Jordan" to discuss the jihad.


Mr Jaffa has said married volunteers will spend four months in the Moluccas, while those who are single will probably stay there for good.

However, there were reports last month that many volunteers were now seeking refuge and asking to be deported from Ambon.

According to a local official, they felt deceived by their leaders because they had been told they would be conducting humanitarian activities.

"It turns out that they were ordered to join the battle and many have sought help to go home," the official added.

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