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Indonesian police shoot dead 6 supporters of firebrand cleric

Indonesian police shoot dead 6 supporters of firebrand cleric

Muslim cleric Rizieq Shihab gestures to thousands of supporters as he arrives to inaugurate a mosque in Bogor following his return from exile in Saudi Arabia. (Photo: AFP/ADITYA SAPUTRA)

JAKARTA: At least six supporters of a firebrand Indonesian Muslim cleric were shot dead on Monday (Dec 7) as they tried to reach a police station where their leader was to be questioned, Jakarta's police chief said on Monday.

Fadil Imran said police were forced to defend themselves when 10 supporters of Rizieq Shihab attacked them at a toll road about 50km east of the capital Jakarta.

"When our officers were following the cars of followers, they came closer and attacked us using guns and sharp objects," Imran told reporters.

Police officers shot in response, leaving six people dead, he added. Four others managed to escape during the early morning shootout.

Shihab was due to be questioned on Monday for allegedly violating COVID-19 restrictions last month when tens of thousands of his followers gathered at his home to attend the wedding of his daughter.

The police have been investigating the controversial cleric for violations of health protocols during the pandemic after large crowds turned out to celebrate his return to the world's biggest Muslim majority country from self exile in Saudi Arabia.

READ: Jakarta governor contracts COVID-19 as Indonesia infections spike

Shihab, leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, left Indonesia in 2017 to go on an umrah, or minor pilgrimage, to Mecca shortly after the National Police charged him in connection with a pornography chat case and for allegedly insulting the Pancasila state ideology.

Police dropped both charges last year due to weak evidence, but authorities in Saudi Arabia had banned him from leaving the country without any explanation.

Shihab returned to Indonesia in November, with thousands of followers gathering to welcome him at the airport.

The Islamic Defenders Front was once on the political fringes and has a long record of vandalising nightspots, hurling stones at Western embassies and attacking rival religious groups. It wants Syariah law to apply to Indonesia's 230 million Muslims.​​​​​​​

The group has gained significant influence through humanitarian and charity work. It was a key organiser of massive street protests in 2016 and 2017 against the governor of Jakarta, who was subsequently imprisoned for blasphemy.​​​​​​​

Source: AGENCIES/dv

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