Thursday, December 22, 2016

Australia: Major Terror Attack Averted in Melbourne


-- plus, Australian Christian Lobby's Canberra headquarters bombed
by Elizabeth Kendal

On the morning of Friday 23 December, some 400 heavily armed police raided homes in five of Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs.

Explosive Christmas Day attack planned, ABC
bottom left: Flinders Street Station.
top left: St Paul's Cathedral
right: Federation Square
The raids were the culmination of weeks of intensive investigations and monitoring by Victoria Police, Australian Federal Police, and ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation).

Seven suspected Islamic terrorists were arrested. Of the five being held in custody, four are Australian-born of Lebanese descent, while a fifth is an Egyptian-born Australian citizen. Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton described them as “self-radicalised . . . [but] inspired by ISIS and ISIS propaganda”.

According to reports, the terror plotters were preparing to attack Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station, St Paul’s Cathedral and Federation Square using Improvised Explosive Devices and other weapons such as guns and knives, most likely on Christmas Day.

Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin said this event had concerned him “more than any other” over the past few years. “They had moved very quickly from an intention to a capability and developed capability, including quite progressed plans, we will allege,” Mr Colvin said.

“We’ve heard about Federation Square, we’ve heard about the Flinders Street train station and St Paul’s Cathedral. We believe that they were narrowing down exactly what their plan was, but that’s all in one very small part of Melbourne’s CBD.”

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described it as "one of the most substantial terrorist plots that have been disrupted [in Australia] in recent years".

Christmas services will continue at the cathedral as planned, albeit under heightened security. “We will be alert, but not afraid,” said Dean of St Paul’s, Dr Andreas Loewe. “We thank the police and ASIO for their excellent work.”

Meanwhile in Canberra

Just days earlier, on the evening of Wednesday 21 December, a van loaded with multiple gas canisters was driven at speed into the headquarters of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), in the heart of the Australian capital, Canberra. The driver then ignited the canisters, triggering a massive explosion. The blast blew out the widows and ignited a fire, resulting in significant damage.  Fortunately no-one was working inside the building at the time.

Canberra headquarters of the Australian Christian Lobby
report, includes videos: ABC  (22 Dec 2016)
A conservative Christian lobby group which lobbies for religious freedom and pro-family values, ACL has received multiple death threats during the course of the year, mostly for its reasoned defence of traditional marriage.

The driver survived the attack and after presenting at a Canberra hospital with severe burns, was flown to Sydney for specialist burns treatment. The police are not releasing the bomber’s name, only that he is “an Australian citizen”. While Canberra police have launched an investigation, they have already publicly asserted that the attack was not politically, religiously or ideologically motivated, something ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton finds difficult to swallow. "I think something of this nature, that appears to be so deliberate, is an attack against the sort of things that we've been saying in the public square," he told ABC radio. Mr Shelton said he bore the bomber no malice, but was praying for his recovery and for his family.

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Elizabeth Kendal is international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Indonesian Blasphemy Trial Begins


By Elizabeth Kendal

Updating previous post: Ahok's Blasphemy, 29 November; and Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 383, Indonesia: 'Blasphemy' fuels tensions, 9 November.

Jakarta's Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama
in the defendant's chair, 13 Dec 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

The blasphemy trial against Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese Christian Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama commenced this morning [Tuesday 13 December].

Outside the heavily guarded court, hundreds of anti- and pro-Ahok supporters protested, kept apart by some 2,000 police. Anti-Ahok forces chanted, “Jail Ahok, jail Ahok, jail Ahok now”.

The panel of judges will hear from 30 witnesses and see 50 pieces of evidence. The trial, which is being televised live, is being rushed through the court and expected to conclude early in the New Year.

Fired Up

At a rally over the weekend, attended by Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Indonesia correspondent Adam Harvey, the cleric Habib Muhsin Alathas re-asserted the Qur’anic/Islamic principle that Christians should never have authority over Muslims. Referring to Ahok as “the son of Satan”, he railed against the governor using crude, racist and provocative terms.

“Some of you come to the headquarters of the pig’s pimple, shaking hands with him, and even kiss his hand,” he said. “You have been kissing the hand of someone who is not circumcised — you’re better off kissing a goat’s arse. . . So, if this thin eyes [Indonesian sarcasm for the Chinese] does not go in jail, we will go out onto the street once more, right?”

Australia National University's (ANU) Indonesia expert, Associate Professor Greg Fealy told the ABC that while he does not believe Ahok has blasphemed, “there's probably no way out for him now except to go through this court process, which is very likely to find him guilty I suspect.”

Likewise, Professor Tim Lindsay Melbourne Law School expects Ahok will be convicted, for not only has a fatwa has been issued, but the massive rallies have terrified the authorities. Consequently, he expects the judges will run with public opinion without paying much attention to the evidence.

Writing on the Wall

Reporting from Jakarta, ABC Indonesia correspondent Adam Harvey noted that Ahok looked deeply anxious as he entered the court. Harvey opined, “He can see the writing on the wall.”

Ahok broke down in tears twice as he testified. Insisting that he would never intentionally insult the Qur’an or hurt Muslims, he spoke of his deep affection for his Muslim godparents, and recalled how he helped poor Indonesians to perform the Hajj pilgrimage when he was a district chief a decade ago.

Once the clear front-runner in the gubernatorial race, recent opinion polls indicate that Ahok has now slipped to second place behind Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

But the gubernatorial race is doubtless the last thing on Ahok’s mind now. If found guilty, which most analysts believe he will be, Ahok faces up to five years in prison.

The court has now adjourned until Tuesday 20 December.

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Elizabeth Kendal is international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com