Crowd of 1,000 celebrating eve of Islamic New Year ransack, set fire to construction site.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, December 23 (CDN) — Hundreds of Muslims celebrated the eve of the Islamic New Year last Thursday (Dec. 17) by attacking a Catholic church building under construction in Bekasi, West Java.
A crowd of approximately 1,000 men, women and children from the Bebalan and Taruma Jaha areas of Bekasi walking in a New Year’s Eve procession stopped at the 60 percent-completed Santo Albertus Catholic Church building, where many ransacked and set fires to it, church leaders said. Damage was said to be extensive, but no one was injured.
The crowd initially gathered at the Tiga Mojang Statue about a mile from the church between 10 and 10:45 p.m., said Kristina Maria Rentetana, head of the church building committee. She said there were no hints that the group would become a mob and attack the church building.
Rentetana said she joined the crowd as they walked along. Upon nearing the church, she said, they began throwing stones.
“They shouted, ‘Destroy it, destroy it,’” Rentetana told Compass. “Even women carrying babies joined in stone-throwing. Then a large group dressed in white robes entered the church, which was under construction, and started fires.”
The mob burned the security post and leveled a nearby contractor’s office. “They broke roof tiles, marble slabs, floor tiles, and lamps which had been placed in the building,” Rentetana said.
Some among the mob apparently had come prepared to burn the church building; an empty jerry can was found at the site. The mob also left a computer belonging to the contractor trampled in the gutter.
Rentetana immediately called police, and the mob finally dispersed around 12 midnight after at least 100 officers arrived.
Sector Police Chief Imam Sugianto said the attack on the church was spontaneous.
“There were agitators among the crowd as they walked,” Sugianto said. “These persons incited the crowd to burn the church.”
At press time police had arrested 12 people thought to be leaders of the mob.
“It is not clear whether these are all from the same organization or not,” Sugianto told Compass. Among those arrested was Amat Rosidi, accused of stealing a drill from the construction site.
A Santo Albertus Church priest identified only as Father Yos said the mayor of Bekasi had issued a valid building permit on Feb. 6, 2008. Bekasi is near Jakarta.
The priest said the church building was 60 percent complete on a plot of land of 2,261 square meters. He said he did not know the amount of losses.
Sugianto said he encouraged the church to proceed with plans for a Christmas Eve service and promised to provide adequate security.
“Please hold the Christmas Mass,” he said. “The police will guard the church.”
Rentetana confirmed that police had guaranteed security for the scheduled Christmas Mass.
Sugianto added that the attack on the church will be duly prosecuted, saying, “We will attempt to arrest all of the leaders of this action.”
Report from Compass Direct News