Asia on alert ahead of Christmas

Indonesian police officers take their positions during a drill ahead of Christmas celebration in Medan, Indonesia. (AP)
Updated 24 December 2016

Asia on alert ahead of Christmas

JAKARTA/BANGKOK: Security forces across Asia were on alert on Friday ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays, as police in Australia and Indonesia said they had foiled bomb plots and Malaysian security forces arrested suspected militants.
Australian police said they had prevented attacks on prominent sites in Melbourne on Christmas Day that authorities described as “an imminent terrorist event” inspired by Daesh.
The announcement came after an attack in Berlin in which a truck smashed through a Christmas market on Monday, killing 12 people. The suspect was killed in a pre-dawn shoot-out with police in Milan on Friday, Italy’s interior minister said.
In Indonesia, where Daesh’s first attack in Southeast Asia killed four people in Jakarta in January, at least 14 people were being interrogated over suspected suicide bomb plots targeting the presidential palace in Jakarta and another undisclosed location, police said.
Anti-terrorism police killed three suspects in a gunfight on Wednesday on the outskirts of the capital, Jakarta.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, would deploy 85,000 police and 15,000 military staff for the Christmas and New Year period, police said.
Indonesian groups were helping authorities secure Christmas celebrations amid heightened religious tension after the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, went on trial on a charge of blasphemy, which he denies.
Religious group Islamic Defenders Front swept into shopping centers in the city of Surabaya, in East Java, last week to make sure Muslim staff were not forced by employers to wear Santa hats or other Christmas gear.
In West Java, a group stopped a Christmas event as it was being held in a public building rather than in a church.
In Jakarta, about 300 volunteers from Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest moderate Muslim group, will join police in overseeing security.
“The focus is against terrorism, especially in Jakarta and Bali, because these are the traditional targets,” Indonesia police chief Tito Karnavian told reporters.
The largely Hindu island of Bali, famed for its temples and beaches, suffered Indonesia’s most serious militant attack, in 2002, when 202 people were killed, most of them foreigners, by bombs at a bar.
In the Pakistani city of Lahore, where 72 people were killed in an Easter Day bombing targeting Christians this year, police said 2,000 Muslim volunteers had been trained to help with security.
“A three-layer security will be arranged around every church in Lahore,” said Haider Ashraf, the city’s deputy inspector general of police.
He said CCTV cameras were monitoring churches and other gathering places for Christians, who make up about 1 percent of Muslim-majority Pakistan’s 190 million people.
Police in Muslim-majority Malaysia, where Daesh claimed responsibility for a grenade attack on a bar on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur in June, said this week they had arrested seven people for suspected links to the militant group.
Police will monitor transport hubs, entertainment centers and tourist spots.
“We try not to have too much physical presence in public and focus more on prevention,” Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed said. “People should feel free to enjoy their holidays.”
The US Embassy in India warned this week of an increased threat to places frequented by foreigners.
In mostly Muslim Bangladesh, where a militant group killed 22 people, most of them foreigners, at a Dhaka cafe in July, police would be patrolling near churches, an officer said.


US moves troops, tanks into Lithuania in message to Russia

Updated 13 min 42 sec ago

US moves troops, tanks into Lithuania in message to Russia

  • Dozens of Abrams tanks and Bradley armored vehicles arrived by railway at the army training area in Pabrade
  • The alliance has previously installed similar battalions in Poland and Baltic states Estonia and Latvia as tripwires against possible Russian adventurism in the region

VILNIUS: The United States on Monday began deploying a battalion of troops and dozens of tanks to Lithuania for an unprecedented six-month rotation, a move sought by the Baltic EU and NATO state to deter neighboring Russia.
Dozens of Abrams tanks and Bradley armored vehicles arrived by railway at the army training area in Pabrade.
Lithuania’s Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis said the deployment of some 500 US troops scheduled to stay through the winter proves that a US military presence on NATO’s eastern flank “is no longer a taboo.”
“First and foremost, it is a message to Lithuania and neighboring NATO states that allies are together with us,” the minister told AFP.
“And it is also a message to Russia that the US is engaged, and it is an additional deterrence element,” he added.
Ben Hodges, the former commander of US Army forces in Europe, said the US deployment was a “manifestation of American commitment to continued deterrence along NATO’s eastern flank,” at the time when US was pulling American troops out of Syria and abandoning its Kurdish allies.
“Nobody, including the Russians, should be confused by the Americans’ commitment to NATO despite what was I think a mistake of pulling out of Syria,” Hodges told AFP via telephone.
Two years ago, NATO deployed a German-led multinational battalion of around 1,000 troops to Lithuania, an EU and NATO nation of 2,8 million people.
The alliance installed similar battalions in Poland and Baltic states Estonia and Latvia as tripwires against possible Russian adventurism in the region after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
The entire region had been dominated by the Soviet Union for more than 40 years after World War II.