Thousands of troops were being deployed to guard churches Friday amid warnings that al-Qaida linked militants were planning Christmas terror attacks in the world's most populous Muslim nation. Islamic groups also offered to help protect Christian churchgoers. Maj. Gen. Firman Gani said Friday the Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah might use the holidays to retaliate for the death last month of bomb-making expert Azahari bin Husin, who was gunned down in a police raid.
His terror network is blamed for at least five suicide bombings targeting Western interests since 2002, including Oct. 1 restaurant attacks on Bali island, that together killed more than 240 people. It is also accused in Christmas Eve church bombings five years ago that left 19 dead. "The terrorists have said they will use the momentum of Christmas and the New Year celebrations to carry out attacks," Gani told reporters, adding that there were also indications that Jemaah Islamiyah may be changing its tactics. "They may not use a car bomb or explosives in bags any more," he cautioned. "They could be carrying small bombs that can be thrown at a building or into a crowd." Most of Indonesia's 190 million Muslims practice a moderate form of the faith. But attacks against Christians, who form just 8 percent of the population, have increased amid a global rise in Islamic radicalism. Many Christians said they would go ahead with celebrations despite the security threats.
"I will be going to the church near my mother's house, where I have been attending since I was a child," said Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu, who is helping organize a national Christmas gathering that is expected to draw 6,000 followers. "Security will be very tight," she said, adding that she was happy some 7,000 guards from 11 different Muslim-based organizations had offered to secure congregations and houses of worships over the holidays.
Some, weary of the growing number of terrorist attacks launched in the name of their faith, even offered the use of their own buildings and schools for Christmas celebrations. Authorities have repeatedly warned that despite Azahari's death, Jemaah Islamiyah was still capable of carrying out attacks. Dozens of bombs and maps found in his hideout indicated the group was in the advanced stages of planning another strike, officials said, and a videotape showed a hooded man threatening attacks on the United States and its allies in the war on Iraq, reports the AP. N.U.