The discovery of a bomb plot against the US embassy in Indonesia indicates that the government's reluctance to tackle a rising tide of intolerance is emboldening Islamist groups, analysts said Monday.
Indonesia has been applauded for a terrorism crackdown launched a decade ago after bombings in Bali that killed 202 people, and there have been no successful attacks against Western targets since suicide blasts on Jakarta hotels in 2009.
However, anti-terror police at the weekend arrested 11 members of an Islamic group allegedly targeting the US embassy, a consulate in East Java and a Jakarta building that houses the offices of US mining giant Freeport-McMoran.
Police found explosives and a bomb-making manual when they arrested the men who they said were from a group called HASMI -- the Sunni Movement for Indonesian Society -- in locations across the main island of Java.
It was the first time that HASMI, which had previously taken part in anti-Christian protests but is not a banned group, had been linked to any violent plots.
"What we are seeing is non-violent groups taking the next step into violence," Todd Elliott, a Jakarta-based security analyst at Concord Consulting, told AFP.
The apparent transformation is a sign that hardliners have been encouraged by the authorities' failure to crack down on groups who have targeted minorities, said Noor Huda Ismail from the Institute for International Peace Building.
"There has been an escalation in the transformation of intolerance into terrorism," he told AFP.
Indonesia's constitution guarantees freedom of religion but rights groups say violence against minorities has been escalating since 2008.
In August a mob of Sunni Muslims, Indonesia's majority sect, hacked to death two men from the Shiite minority in the East Java town of Sampang and torched dozens of homes.
And in one of the most high-profile cases of violence against minorities in recent years, a 1,500-strong mob carried out a frenzied attack on members of the Ahmadiyah sect in western Java in February last year, killing three of them.
Rights groups reacted with outrage after 12 leaders of the attack were given light sentences -- a teenager who smashed a victim's skull with a stone was sentenced to just three months in jail.
Human Rights Watch noted last month that in the few cases where violence has resulted in prosecutions, the authorities had often failed to charge all those involved, and punishments had been remarkably light.
Elliott said that the weak response "offers no deterrent effect and some groups will see this as tacit approval to engage in violence".
He said that in a country where 90 percent of the 240-million population is Muslim, the government did not want to appear anti-Islamic and among local Muslim leaders there was a particular unwillingness to crack down.
"There are also allegations that some of the leaders of hardline groups are connected to influential figures in the government," he said.
The government last month said it was escalating its efforts to tackle extremism and unveiled a "deradicalisation blueprint". However, the plan was short on detail and analysts slammed it as empty rhetoric.
The head of Indonesia's anti-terror agency, Ansyaad Mbai, conceded that the failure to take a hard line on religious intolerance could encourage violence.
"The intolerant group will become bigger because they feel that they can get away with what they did," he told AFP.
"We are far from achieving a successful de-radicalisation at this stage. What Indonesia needs is a strong law on hate speech."
Little is known about HASMI as yet.
Damien Kingsbury, an expert on Indonesia from Deakin University in Australia, said that it may have links to Al-Qaeda operatives in the country.
The group behind the Bali bombings was the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, but it has been severely weakened since by the decade-long crackdown on terror.
And while they applauded the government's response to terror threats in the years since the Bali attacks, analysts said the latest plot was evidence that the official approach was failing to tackle the root cause of extremism.
"With the radical ideology not countered effectively, there will always be a threat," said Jim Della-Giacoma from the International Crisis Group.