Church attack brings tighter security

A priest was in critical condition after being attacked by machete wielding men in Indonesia's troubled Sulawesi region Friday as authorities ratcheted up security across the vast archipelago ahead of Christmas celebrations.

As evening fell, millions of Christians flocked to churches across the world's most populous Muslim nation, defying warnings by foreign governments of possible attacks on Western and local targets by militants.

About 130,000 police, many armed with automatic weapons, were deployed outside churches and at other public places across the Indonesian archipelago. Bomb squads combed many churches before services began.

The attack on the priest in Sulawesi's town of Poso was the only reported violence, police said.

The priest, identified as Jemris Tambalino, was taken to hospital in critical condition after the attack in Poso town by up to five unidentified men when he was riding a motorcycle with a friend on Friday morning.

"He was slashed with machetes wounding his face, while his friend suffered injuries to his hand," Poso police official S.B. Rorimpandey told Reuters by telephone.

"A search for the men is underway," he said, adding it was unclear what denomination the priest belonged to.

Poso is about 1,500 km (900 miles) northeast of Jakarta, where more than 2,000 people have died in Muslim-Christian clashes since late 1998.

In Jakarta's colonial era Cathedral some 3,000 worshipers had to pass through metal detectors or were frisked before attending the first mass of the evening.

"Basically I am still worried because in the past something did happen despite tight security but I am convinced that God will protect us," said 40-year-old Silvie, a mother of three, inside the Gothic-style building.

In the cathedral compound, worshipers who could not fit inside the building, crammed under the makeshift tents.

Police in the capital said on Friday they had yet to receive a report on the attack on the priest but said things seemed quiet elsewhere in the country.

"As far as I know, it's been safe, no real threats, but I haven't received any report of this attack," said Soenarko Danu Ardanto, deputy national police spokesman.

Police have said about two-thirds of the total force would patrol churches, shopping malls and other public places during the Christmas and New Year period.