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Thousands greet exiled Indonesian Islamist cleric Rizieq Shihab on return home Open in fullscreen

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Thousands greet exiled Indonesian Islamist cleric Rizieq Shihab on return home

Rizieq Shihab fled Indonesia in 2017 [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 November, 2020

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Rizieq Shihab had lived in exile in Saudi Arabia after facing charges of insulting the state's ideology and a pornographic messaging scandal.

Thousands of supporters of Indonesian cleric Rizieq Shihab gathered at Jakarta's airport on Tuesday to greet the firebrand Islamist leader on his return from self-imposed exile.

Rizieq, 55, had lived in exile in Saudi Arabia after facing charges of insulting the state's ideology and a pornographic message scandal.

Supporters of Rizieq and his Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) thronged the airport, bringing the toll road to a standstill. Many scrambled to touch the cleric and kiss his hand.

"We really miss him because we know he really fights for Islam and the Indonesian nation," one supporter was quoted by Reuters as saying. "I hope Muslims can unite."

Rizieq, an Arab Indonesian of Hadrami heritage, was a key leader in a movement that helped bring down former Jakarta governer Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in 2017. Basuki, also known as Ahok, was accused of insulting Islam during a campaign speech and was jailed for two years in 2017. 

In the same year, Rizieq was accused by police of insulting Indonesia's secular state ideology, as well as breaking pornography laws after an alleged sexting scandal.

Rizieq fled Indonesia for Saudi Arabia, where he remained for over three years.

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