Indonesia’s Islamic Vigilantes

CIREBON, INDONESIA — Before he strapped on his suicide vest, walked into a crowded police station mosque and blew himself up last month, Muhammad Syarif was typical of the scores of angry young men who pass their days at fundamentalist mosques in this coastal Javanese city.
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The authorities in Cirebon, Indonesia, on Thursday escorted a man suspected of having links to the suicide bomber who blew himself up at the local police compound last month.
Mr. Syarif, 31, was a familiar face at often-violent protests, organized by local clerics, against alleged places of immorality, like karaoke bars and unregistered Christian churches. Last year, he joined mobs wielding sticks, staves and machetes who clashed with members of Ahmadiyya, a minority Muslim sect deemed heretical by fundamentalists.

But to the police, Mr. Syarif was of little interest. Like many members of a small and vocal fringe of Islamist vigilante groups in Cirebon, Mr. Syarif operated with near-impunity as the local authorities turned a blind eye to — or even tacitly condoned, liberal Muslim leaders say — an atmosphere of intimidation against minorities and others deemed un-Islamic.

No one, it seems, saw it coming when Mr. Syarif slipped into the police station mosque during Friday Prayer and detonated his bomb, killing himself and wounding 30 people, including the local police chief. “..”

“My impression is that the authorities are letting this happen,” Mr. Marzuki said. “They’re cowards when it comes to facing these groups. Frankly, they’re rearing a tiger that wants to jab its master.”

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