Indonesian Muslim hardliner goes on trial over attack

Arab World Materials 21 August 2008 12:14 (UTC +04:00)

Amid tight security, an Indonesian Muslim hardliner went on trial Thursday for his alleged role in a violent attack against an interfaith rally in early June that left dozens of people injured, dpa reported.

Government prosecutors charged Habib Rizieq Shihab, chairman of Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), with violating criminal code articles on ambush, inciting violence and spreading hatred, which could bring a maximum sentence of nine years in prison.

Dozens of white-clad FPI activists embraced Shihab as the turban-wearing Islamist came out the courtroom, and chanted "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great), witnesses said.

In response to the indictment, Shihab claimed he did not give any order to his followers to attack the rally, adding that "I was not at the scene when the incident took place" at Jakarta's National Monument (Monas) area.

On June 1, hundreds of stick-wielding FPI followers violently attacked an interfaith rally in support of Ahmadiyah, an Islamic minority dubbed "heretical" by the country's top clerics.

Dozens were injured in the attack, which sparked an outcry from moderate Muslim groups and government officials across the country, demanding the government ban the extremist organization.

Rizieq, who was jailed for seven months in 2004 for inciting vandalism on entertainment spots in Jakarta and spreading hatred against the government, earlier this year declared "war" on the minority Ahmadiyah sect, which does not believe Muhammed was the last prophet, breaching one of the basic tenets of the religion.

A week after the violent attack, the government issued a decree ordering the Ahmadiyah minority sect's followers to cease all activities and return to mainstream Islam or face five years imprisonment and the disbanding of the group.

Mainstream Muslims reject Ahmadiyah's claim of the prophethood of its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908 in India. Most Muslims believe that Mohammed is the last of the prophets.

Indonesia is home to the world's largest Islamic population, with nearly 88 per cent of its 225 million people being Muslims. The country has a long history of religious tolerance.