ASEAN Beat | Security | Southeast Asia

Indonesia Arrests Firebrand Cleric’s Lawyer Over Attacks

Police arrested Islam Defenders Front leader Rizieq Shihab’s lawyer, Munarman, in a raid this week.

Indonesia Arrests Firebrand Cleric’s Lawyer Over Attacks

In this Saturday Dec. 12, 2020 file photo, general secretary of the now-defunct Islam Defenders Front Munarman, left, who is also the lawyer of firebrand cleric Rizieq Shihab, right, gestures at reporters after Rizieq’s questioning at the Regional Police Headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Credit: AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim, File

Members of Indonesia’s counterterrorism police on Tuesday arrested the lawyer of a firebrand cleric and accused him of inciting people to commit terrorist acts and of pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group, officials said.

Police arrested Islam Defenders Front leader Rizieq Shihab’s lawyer, Munarman, in a raid on his house in Jakarta’s satellite city of Tangerang after interrogating scores of suspected militants detained after an attack outside a Roman Catholic cathedral during Palm Sunday Mass last month.

Munarman, who goes by one name, was the general secretary of the now-defunct Islam Defenders Front, widely known by the Indonesian acronym FPI, which was once on the political fringes and has a long record of vandalizing nightspots, hurling stones at Western embassies and attacking rival religious groups. It wants Islamic Shariah law to apply to Indonesia’s 230 million Muslims.

“He is accused of an evil conspiracy to carry out acts of terror,” National Police spokesperson Argo Yuwono said in a statement. He said Munarman incited people to commit radical acts and hid information about terrorism from authorities.

Police are still investigating his house in Tangerang and the disbanded FPI’s headquarters in central Jakarta, where they seized chemicals for use in explosives, Ahmad Ramadhan, another police spokesman, said in a news conference late Tuesday.

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The government banned FPI in December, saying it had no legal grounds to operate as a civil organization and that its activities often violated the law and caused public disorder. Police arrested Shihab, the group’s founder and chairman, on charges of inciting people to breach pandemic restrictions by holding events with large crowds.

Munarman, a former human rights lawyer before joining FPI, has been one of Shihab’s lawyers since the firebrand cleric’s trial in East Jakarta District Court began last month.

Police said they obtained videos showing Munarman pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group between 2014 and 2015 in Jakarta, Medan and Makassar.

A married couple believed to be members of a militant network that also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, blew themselves up outside a packed Roman Catholic cathedral during a Palm Sunday Mass in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, on March 29, wounding at least 20 people.

The country has been on high alert over the church attack and possible retaliation for FPI’s disbandment after several recently arrested suspected militants were found to be members of FPI.

Police say the elite counterterrorism squad, known as Densus 88, has arrested more than 90 suspected militants since January, some believed to have links to the cathedral attack and others who were allegedly planning attacks on police and places of worship.

Indonesia has been battling militancy since the al-Qaida-linked group Jemaah Islamiyah carried out bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. Attacks aimed at foreigners have been largely replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, police, anti-terrorism forces and people considered by militants to be infidels.