Indonesia police kill six suspected supporters of hardline leader

Police chief says six died after officers felt their lives were in danger following car chase along Jakarta highway.

Muslim scholar Rizieq Shihab (centre), leader of the Islamic Defenders Front returned to Indonesia last month and has held a number of large gatherings despite coronavirus restrictions [Aditya Saputra/AFP]

Six suspected supporters of Indonesian Muslim leader Muhammad Rizieq Shihab were killed in a clash with police in the early hours of Monday morning, Jakarta police chief Fadil Imran told reporters.

The incident occurred just after midnight on a highway to the east of Jakarta when a police car was attacked while following a vehicle believed to be carrying followers of the scholar, Fadil said.

“Officers who felt their lives were threatened took firm and measured action against the group,” the Kompas newspaper cited Fadil as saying.

The group had firearms and sharp weapons, the police chief added, according to the paper.

The police have been investigating the controversial scholar for violations of health protocols during the pandemic after large gatherings to mark his return to Indonesia in November after fleeing to Saudi Arabia in 2017.

Supporters of Rizieq Shihab, leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, gather at their headquarters in Jakarta on November 10 to welcome him back from Saudi Arabia [Bay Ismoyo/AFP]

Rizieq, who heads a hardline group known as the Islamic Defenders Front, went into self-imposed exile after he was charged under the country’s pornography laws for allegedly exchanging explicit text messages including naked photos with a woman who was not his wife.

The leader, who has led campaigns against minorities and rallied his supporters to bring charges of blasphemy against former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, said the messages were fake. The charges were dropped in 2018.

Riziek, as well as his son-in-law and a number of others, were due to be questioned by police on Monday for breaching COVID-19 rules. Indonesia has reported more than half a million cases of COVID-19 and nearly 18,000 deaths. It reported more than 6,000 new cases on Sunday.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters