Ahmadiyah mosque fire was arson, say police

Jakarta, Indonesia - A mosque belonging to members of the persecuted Islamic sect, Jamaah Ahmadiyah, was deliberately set on fire by unidentified arsonists, the police confirmed Tuesday.

Unidentified men attempted to burn the Ahmadiyah Islamic sect's mosque, located on Jl. Ciputat Raya in Kebayoran Lama, South Jakarta, on Tuesday morning, a day after Muslim hard-liners staged a rally against the sect.

"We believe the perpetrators were people who did not like the fact there was an Ahmadiyah mosque here," Comr. Makmur Simbolon, chief of the Kebayoran Lama Police, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Makmur suspected there were two people involved in the arson, who had used 5 liters of gasoline from a jerrican that had been found at the site. The police chief said he believed the arsonists had poured the gasoline over the floor of the second story of the mosque and ignited it in an attempt to destroy the building.

He said testimonies from Ahmadis had revealed that someone had tried to sneak into the mosque on Monday, though they were immediately discovered by the Ahmadis, who then reported the break-in to the Kebayoran Lama Police.

He said he had sent several officers to patrol the area until 11 p.m. However, he refused to take the blame for the arson, saying "the police could not keep an eye on everyone at every moment".

He said the police were questioning five witnesses about the arson.

"We are still investigating this case and the number of witnesses will definitely rise," he said.

At least eight people were confirmed to have been praying when the fire began, but they escaped the fire unscathed.

"The fire was immediately extinguished by locals and did not spread to other areas," Makmur said.

According to Ahmadiyah spokesman, Zafrulah Pontoh, Ahmadis noticed the fire blazing on the second story of Al-Hidayah Mosque after performing the dawn prayer. They immediately put out the fire and notified the police.

Zafrulah said the fire had charred the ceiling of the second floor.

"We don't know who the perpetrators are yet," he said.

The attempt to burn Al-Hidayah Mosque is the latest harassment of the Ahmadis, a group of people who believe Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the group in 1889, was a prophet and also the messiah.

In April last year, mobs burned down an Ahmadiyah mosque in Sukabumi. In Mataram, Lombok, East Nusa Tenggara, 192 people are still living in a refugee center after being forced out from their village in Lingsar, West Lombok, three years ago. More than 300 houses there were destroyed.

From the southern part of Indonesia (Bengkalis in Riau) to the eastern part (Bulukumba, South Sulawesi), the persecution of the Ahmadis has been widespread. It has been common for mobs to destroy the houses of Ahmadiyah members.

After the governmental Coordinating Body for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in Society (Bakorpakem) recommended that Jamaah Ahmadiyah be outlawed for having "deviated from Islamic principles", the government released a joint ministerial decree last June freezing activities of the group, which established itself legally in 1953. Ahmadiyah entered Indonesia in 1925.

The decree allows Ahmadis to practice their faith as long as they do not attempt to disseminate their religion to anyone else.

The compromise has not been received well by both Muslim hard-liners, who demand the group be outlawed completely, and liberals, who reject state interference in religious practice.