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Friday, 14 July, 2000, 08:24 GMT 09:24 UK
Moluccan militants: God on our side
Muslim militants
The fighters are waging a 'holy war' in the Moluccas
Joanna Jolly reports from the Moluccas

The Islamic militants blamed for the violence in Indonesia's Moluccan Islands sharpen their fighting skills by shooting at each other after drinking holy water.

"Before we go to the holy war field, we are trained magically," says Abubakar Wahid, leader of the North Moluccas Lashkar Jihad group.

We are tested by being cut by swords and shot by pistols

Abubakar Wahid, Lashkar Jihad leader

"We are given drinking water that has been blessed by Allah and we ask him for strength through this water.

"If the magic is a true contact with God, he will help us and we will not be shot or wounded."

Mr Wahid points to a row of sword cuts on his arms, proof that he is invincible, he says.
Abubakar Wahid, North Moluccas Lashkar Jihad.
Mr Wahid: Protected by God

The militant leader lives on the tiny volcanic island of Tidore, not far from Halmahera island, scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in recent weeks.

He says he has an army of 30,000 fighters determined to avenge attacks against Muslims in the province.

"If the Christians want to surrender we are ready to make peace. But if they don't and keep struggling, we must fight them," Mr Wahid warns.

Revenge

Lashkar Jihad was formed following a Christian attack on a mosque on Halmahera last December.

Since then, Muslim fighters have undertaken revenge attacks on Christian communities on the island.
Lashkar Jihad fighters
Jihad fighters train with each other

The most recent was on 19 June in the village of Duma when more than 100 Christians were killed.

International aid agencies estimate the conflict in the Moluccas has created tens of thousands of refugees on both sides.

But the war being fought in the northern islands is not just over religion.

Christian and Muslim communities who have lived side-by side for hundreds of years are fighting to protect their land and economic interests.

"The Christians in Halmahera keep saying that Halmahera will not be ruled by the Muslims," says Mr Wahid. "So my command is that they must be driven away from Halmahera."

'We depend on God'

Despite the declaration of a civil state of emergency, the militants are still able to move freely throughout the islands.
Refugees from Halmahera
Thousands have fled the fighting in the Moluccas

They are supported by Lashkar Jihad fighters from other parts of Indonesia, namely Java, Sumatra and Aceh, who continue to travel to the region.

Mr Wahid says he is in constant contact with the leaders of other Lashkar Jihad forces in Jakarta and Ambon with whom he co-ordinates attacks.

But he denies being manipulated by forces close to disgraced former President Suharto who are accused of trying to destabilise the presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid.

"As far as we know, we have never met Mr Suharto. Why would he help us? We have so much money ourselves without anybody's help. We just depend on God," he says.

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See also:

04 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
University destroyed in Moluccas
29 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Moluccan islanders' desperate flight
20 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Massacre in the Moluccas
21 Mar 99 | SPECIAL REPORT
Ambon's troubled history
02 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Survivors found from missing ferry
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