Six suspected supporters of a hardline Indonesian Islamic cleric Rizieq Shihab were killed in a clash with police on Monday, Jakarta police chief Fadil Imran told reporters.
The incident occurred just after midnight on a highway when a police car was attacked while following a car believed to be carrying supporters of the cleric, resulting in a shoot out, Fadil said.
The police have been investigating the cleric for violations of health protocols during the pandemic after large gatherings to celebrate his return last month to the world’s biggest Muslim majority country from self exile in Saudi Arabia.
The 55-year-old, a firebrand cleric who heads the Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI), a conservative Islamic group that has become politically influential in recent years, left Indonesia in 2017 after facing charges of pornography and insulting state ideology.
Despite the allegations, which his supporters say were untrue and an attempt to discredit him, Rizieq’s self-imposed exile appears to have done little to diminish his appeal.
When he landed in the capital Jakarta, tens of thousands flocked to the airport in white Islamic grab, ignoring coronavirus protocols and clamouring to kiss his hand.
Before he left Indonesia, Rizieq was the figurehead of the hardline ‘212’ movement that opposed Jakarta’s former Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as ‘Ahok’, who was accused and ultimately jailed for insulting Islam.
The rallies were the biggest since the fall of Indonesia’s former authoritarian ruler Suharto, in 1998.
In the weeks since his return, Rizieq has declared his plans to embark on a “moral crusade” and has met some politicians and opposition figures.
Officials at the FPI could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday’s fatal clash with police.