Indonesian police say controversial cleric's bodyguards carried guns, leading to fatal shoot-out

Members of the Islamic Defenders Front hold a rally in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on Dec 8 2020.
Members of the Islamic Defenders Front hold a rally in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on Dec 8 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA - Indonesian police have obtained hard evidence confirming that the bodyguards of Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab illegally possessed firearms, which police said were used against officers tailing their cars outside Jakarta on Monday (Dec 7).

The evidence will be disclosed after an investigation of the incident is completed, police said.

The incident in the early hours of Monday led to a shoot-out and six of the 10 bodyguards of the vigilante group leader were killed. The other four left the scene and have remained fugitives. The police car sustained a bump and its windshield had a bullet hole.

FPI said the six bodyguards were victims of "extra-judicial killings". It accused the police of breaching human rights, and claimed the bodyguards did not have firearms. Police said the officers acted in self-defence.

Jakarta police spokesman Colonel Yusri Yunus appealed to people not to spread falsehoods. He was responding to unsubstantiated claims that police misled the public and that the two firearms shown during a police press conference did not belong to the six killed bodyguards.

"After we finish gathering all the other evidence, we will disclose (it) to the media," Colonel Yusri added, stressing that anyone spreading any hoax could be dealt with using criminal charges.

The Straits Times understands that police confiscated the mobile phones belonging to the six killed bodyguards and collected significant data and evidence from them.

When asked about this, a mid-ranked police officer who follows the ongoing investigation of the case, said that police cannot yet disclose any of the information or evidence collected as it would jeopardise ongoing interrogations by the police detective unit.

The officer said: "You are a well-armed officer and all of a sudden anyone, a possible victim, a colleague, (has a gun pointed at him) by an ill-intentioned person. What would you do?"

Mr Rizieq has been under close surveillance, as he avoided police summonses for interrogation on a Nov 14 mass event which flouted health measures to control the coronavirus and sparked fears of fresh outbreaks in the capital.

On Dec 1, he was due to explain to the police what had happened at the event, when thousands of his supporters gathered to attend the wedding of his daughter and commemorate Prophet Muhammad's birthday.

Instead, he sent to the Jakarta police station lawyers who cited health reasons for Mr Rizieq's no-show. But no doctor's affidavit was given to the police, a requirement for using a health reason for not fulfilling a summons.

On Monday, the day of the shoot-out, Mr Rizieq was again supposed to report to the police, as a second summons had been issued, after which police could detain him if he again did not show up.

In a statement sent to foreign media on Tuesday, police said officers increased surveillance on FPI and the movement of Mr Rizieq after information on the social media revealed that he would mobilise thousands of his supporters to descend on the police station as he was due for an interrogation.

On Sunday night, about half an hour after midnight, on a toll road about 50 km from Jakarta, surveillance officers in a car, tailing Mr Rizieq's convoy, were obstructed by two of the four cars escorting Mr Rizieq's car.

The bodyguards in the cars brandished a machete and sickles, and pointed a firearm at the officers. The police statement said: "Officers who felt that their life was at risk immediately took measured, decisive steps."