Jakarta. Police on Wednesday were set to charge several suspects linked to the torching of a mosque in Papua's Tolikara district last week as officials rushed to contain the fallout of the incident and prevent violence from spreading elsewhere.
"Law enforcers have examined 30 witnesses. Today, there are five more witnesses [questioned]. After [all witnesses] are questioned, we will name the suspects," National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti told reporters on Wednesday.
The general however remained tight-lipped on when the announcement would be made.
Police earlier said "some individuals" had been provoking a group of around 200 people, pelting stones and setting fire to shops owned by Muslim migrants as local Muslims were absent from the area while taking part in a mass Idul Fitri prayer.
Almost 60 shops were destroyed in the flames, while 211 people were left homeless and a local mosque destroyed.
Badrodin said that police were investigating all claims surrounding the incident, including the spreading of flyers purportedly from the Evangelical Church of Indonesia (GIDI) — the largest religious group in the district — barring Muslims from performing Idul Fitri prayers en masse because the holiday coincided with a national conference held by GIDI.
GIDI has denied distributing the flyers and instead accused police of inciting the riot by firing at some GIDI youths "peacefully protesting" the use of loudspeakers in the mass prayer. A dozen people were shot by police in the incident, with one killed.
Badrodin said a team of experts from the National Police headquarters in Jakarta had been examining the flyers.
Police, he said, also investigated GIDI's accusations of excessive use of force and determined members of the local precinct had followed "proper procedure" by firing warning shots into the air and then down to the ground to prevent protesters from advancing.
"But [these warning shots] were ignored," he said. "The investigation is still ongoing."
Badrodin also defended Tolikara Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Suroso, who has been criticized for failing to prevent violence, with the threatening flyers being circulated up to a week before the incident.
"The district police chief has taken some measures. Once the flyers circulated he immediately confirmed it with GIDI president [the Rev. Dorman Wandikmbo]. The GIDI president said he never authorized it," the general said.
Suroso also consulted the matter with Tolikara district chief Usman Wanimbo, who assured police that Muslims could still perform their mass prayers.
"Which is why [Suroso] confidently told the Muslim community: 'go ahead with the prayer, I will keep you safe,'" Badrodin said.
Badrodin said he instructed all officers across the country to prevent violence from spreading as provocative messages continued to circulate in the aftermath of the incident.
A church in Purworejo district, Central Java, sustained minor damage after its front door was set on fire early on Tuesday. A threatening letter was left for its congregation.
Meanwhile, police in Jakarta were stepping up security to prevent Papuan students and churches from becoming a target of hate crimes, Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Tito Karnavian said.