Islamic Defender Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Syihab addresses his supporters upon arrival at the Soekarno Hata Airport in Tangerang, Banten, on Nov. 10, 2020, after a flight from Saudi Arabia. (Antara Photo/Muhammad Iqbal)

Thousands Welcome Controversial Muslim Group Leader Rizieq Syihab


NOVEMBER 10, 2020

Jakarta. Thousands of people surrounded the arrival terminal at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang on Tuesday morning to welcome Rizieq Syihab -- the leader of hardliner Muslim group Islamic Defender Front, or FPI -- causing a seven-kilometer line of vehicles stuck in traffic jam heading to the airport.

Rizieq left for Saudi Arabia in May 2017 amid allegations of adultery and pornographic chats, in addition to several legal issues including defamation and treason concerning his speeches. 

The 55-year-old remained an influential figure among President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo’s political opponents during his stay in the Kingdom where he often received their visits, including one by then presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto in the heat of the 2019 election.

He regularly published videos to denounce the Jokowi leadership and launched a series of debunked misinformation about election fraud.

Rizieq arrived at the airport at around 09.00 a.m. and was escorted to his residence in Petamburan, Central Jakarta.

“I return to rejoin my fellow Indonesian Muslims and because I want to fight alongside them,” he told his supporters outside his home.

He said he will lead the struggle for “moral revolution” against “cheating leaders”.

Rizieq is the “supreme leader” of the FPI, notorious for vandalism and verbal and physical attacks against people of different faiths. But his support base has expanded beyond the group itself after he led massive protests against then Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in 2016-17 over alleged blasphemy and became a staunch critic of the president.

Flight Cancellations
His supporters began to flock to the airport since around 04.00 a.m. and their number was getting bigger and bigger, police said. Many of them parked their cars on the roadsides to worsen the congestion.

Some people left their taxis or ride-sharing service vehicles and walked to the airport to catch their flight, but many others couldn’t make it. 

Among them were pilots and aircrew members, resulting in the cancellation of tens of flights.

Novie Riyanto, the director general of civil aviation, said 28 flights were cancelled during the morning but situation returned to normal by noon.

Airport operator closed all the doors at the international arrival terminal to prevent entry by the crowd, who visibly ignored the physical distancing rule during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of them didn’t wear face masks.

The government denied on Monday that they had taken measures to prevent Rizieq’s return.

“We didn’t stand in his way when he decided to leave because he has the right to do so. Now as he plans to return, he is entitled with the right as a citizen,” chief security minister Mahfud M.D. said.