Police discover illegal mosque on Indonesia's 'death' island

Police discover illegal mosque on Indonesia's 'death' island
Island squatters: Men pose at the Al-Muwahidin Islamic boarding school (pesantren) on Nusakambangan Island on Sunday. The Law and Human Rights Ministry has declared the school complex illegal, as the whole island is reserved for maximum security prisons.

Following reports of radicalization activities on Nusakambangan maximum-security prison island in Cilacap, Central Java, the police have combed the island and found an illegal settlement comprising an Islamic boarding school (pesantren) and a mosque deep in a forest.

The mosque and pesantren are being used for activities by people from outside Cilacap without a permit from the Law and Human Rights Ministry, which has authority over the island.

"We found the community in a location at the western end of the island, called Selok Jero. It is located quite far from the prison complex. They've built a mosque and accommodation over the past few years. The mosque is named the Masjid Jami Al-Muwahidin," Cilacap Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Ulung Sampurna Jaya said on Monday.

The location of the mosque and pesantren was relatively hidden and could only be reached by a difficult route. The police questioned members of the community, led by Ustad Abu Tohari, which had been suspected of being a hard-line group. However, police found no signs of weapons training or radicalization activities being carried out.

Ulung said he warned the mosque caretaker against spreading hard-line teachings, such as those of the Islamic State (IS) movement. Ulung also told Abu Tohari the police would not tolerate any of his group members being involved in IS.

"We are ready to disband the group if we are ordered to do so by the authorities on Nusakambangan," said Ulung.

The prison island houses terrorist leaders Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and Aman Abdurrahman as well as death row inmates Iwan Darmawan Mutho alias Rois and Abdul Hasan - the two masterminds of the 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) has reported that IS propaganda messages are being translated and disseminated in Indonesia by Aman Abdurrahman from inside the prison.

When asked for confirmation, Central Java Law and Human Rights Office head Mirza Zulkarnain, said his office had never issued any permit to the group to reside or conduct activities on the island.

"Apart from prison staff members and their families, we don't allow anyone else to stay on Nusakambangan," Mirza told The Jakarta Post.

According to him, anyone other than those sanctioned, including squatters who set up farms or those carrying out religious activities in Selok Jero, were on the island illegally, and his office would take appropriate measures in the near future.

Previously, the local chapter of Nahdlatul Ulama - the country's largest Muslim organisation - and the Religious Community Communication Forum (FKUB) leaders in Cilacap regency had urged authorities to take action against groups carrying out hard-line activities.

According to the head of the Cilacap chapter of the FKUB, Muhammad Taufik Hidayatulloh, such groups not only exist in Selok Jero, but also in Kampung Laut, an area near Nusakambangan. The members of the groups reportedly paid visits to terror convicts incarcerated on Nusakambangan.

"All those from Kampung Laut and Selok Jero who visit the prison on Nusakambangan are from a certain network. We have noticed their presence in Cilacap for quite some time. They even own a transit home in Cilacap city to accommodate members who arrive from far regions," said Taufik.

Aside from terrorist convicts, drug traffickers, such as Australian Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, are also held on the island, awaiting their upcoming executions on Nusakambangan - widely dubbed the "death island".

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