terrorist mastermind and financing bombings in Indonesia that also impacted the nation’s Christian minority.
The South Jakarta District Court said the three defendants had connections with the al-Qaida-linked militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, blamed for a string of deadly suicide attacks that left over 240 people dead over the last four years.
Abdulah Sunata and Joni Ahmad Fauzani reportedly admitted meeting Noordin Top, believed to be one of the group’s key leaders, but denied terrorism charges. They received prison terms of seven and four years respectively.
The third defendant, Joko Sumanto, was found guilty of financing terrorism and gunrunning and was sentenced to four years, the news reports said. It came amid growing concern among Christian believers over renewed Muslim militant attacks and threats against churches and Christian organizations.
In one of the latest reported incidents, a house church in the Indonesian province of West Java was surrounded by about 200 Muslim militants April 23, who demanded that members stop using the home for worship, a Christian advocacy group said. Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) claimed its investigators learned that under pressure the owner of the house in the Gunungputri House Complex in Bogor agreed to stop the church services.
"After receiving this assurance, the mob moved on to a local house-store which is also used for Sunday worship [but] before the crowd arrived, however, the worshippers had left and the owner had locked the building. The protestors warned the security guard they would return if the building was used for worship again," VOMC told BosNewsLife in a statement.
News of the latest attack came shortly after a Muslim community group called Majlis Taklim on April 9 entered the premises of a Christian social institution in West Java, Indonesia, demanding its closure for the fifth time this year, several news reports said.
The Apostolic Nation Building Foundation (ABB) operated from a residential building in the Griya Bintara Indah housing complex in Bintara sub-district of the West Bekasi district area in West Java.
Around 70 Majlis Taklim members came to the ABB headquarters on April 9 and reportedly told the foundation to cease all activities, accusing them of running an illegal church and trying to "Christianize" the community.
Majlis Taklim coordinator Radesman Saragih was quoted as saying that his had observed people entering the building for worship services on Sunday mornings. “The foundation is only a façade to cover up the real activities of the church,” Saragih said in a statement, adding that the foundation lacked a proper permit.
ABB Director Sarah Fifi denied the charges saying her organization was not a church but "a Christian social institution, non-profit and independent.”
Local authorities had given permission to use her home as a base for the foundation, she said, adding that some 20 staff members gathered at her home every Sunday morning for a two-hour prayer meeting and a briefing and evaluation session.
She explained that ABB wanted to "strengthen" Indonesia "through education, free medication and environmental programs – any activities that help the community.”
The latest incidents come amid indications of growing pressure on minority Christians to stop worship services "because of difficulties in gaining permission for constructing buildings to hold church services," VOMC said.
"In Indonesia many Christians [are therefore forced] to gather in homes for worship. Muslim militants have been putting significant pressure on the government and on local Christians in recent months to stop these gatherings," VOMC added.
Christians comprise less than 3 percent of the roughly 166-million strong population of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation. (With reports from Indonesia and BosNewsLife Research).