Suicide Bomb Hits Palm Sunday Mass in Indonesia, 20 Wounded

March 28, 2021 Updated: March 28, 2021

MAKASSAR, Indonesia—Two attackers blew themselves up outside a packed Roman Catholic cathedral during a Palm Sunday Mass on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island, wounding at least 20 people, police said.

A video obtained by The Associated Press showed body parts scattered near a burning motorbike at the gates of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi Province.

Rev. Wilhelmus Tulak, a priest at the church, said he had just finished celebrating Palm Sunday Mass when a loud bang shocked his congregation. He said the blast went off at about 10:30 a.m. as a first batch of churchgoers was walking out of the church and another group was coming in.

He said security guards at the church were suspicious of two men on a motorcycle who wanted to enter the building and when they went to confront them, one of the men detonated his explosives.

Police later said both attackers were killed instantly and evidence collected at the scene indicated one of the two was a woman. The wounded included four guards and several churchgoers, police said.

The attack a week before Easter in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation came as the country was on high alert following December’s arrest of the leader of the Southeast Asian extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah, which has been designated a terror group by many nations.

Indonesia has been battling terrorists since bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. Attacks aimed at foreigners have been largely replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, police and anti-terrorism forces, and people terrorists consider as infidels.

President Joko Widodo condemned Sunday’s attack and said it has nothing to do with any religion, as all religions would not tolerate any kind of terrorism.

“I call on people to remain calm while worshipping because the state guarantees you can worship without fear,” Widodo said in a televised address.

He offered his prayers to those injured and said the government would cover all costs of medical treatment. He said he had ordered the national police chief to investigate the attack and crack down on any extremist network that may be involved.

At least 20 people were wounded in the attack and had been admitted to hospitals for treatment, said Mohammad Mahfud, the coordinating minister for political, legal, and security affairs.

“The perpetrators or terrorist groups behind this attack will continue to be pursued,” Mahfud said.

Indonesia’s National Police spokesperson Argo Yuwono said police were still trying to identify the two attackers on the motorbike and whether they were linked to a local affiliate of the banned Jemaah Islamiyah network or were acting independently.

Indonesian forces in December arrested the group’s leader Aris Sumarsono, also known as Zulkarnaen. Over the past month, the country’s counterterrorism squad has arrested about 64 suspects, including 19 in Makassar, following a tipoff about possible attacks against police and places of worship.

While Jemaah Islamiyah has been weakened over the past decade by a sustained crackdown, in recent years a new threat has emerged in extremists who fought with the ISIS terrorist group in Iraq and Syria and returned to Indonesia or those inspired by the group’s attacks abroad.

Indonesia’s last major attack was in May 2018, when two families carried out a series of suicide bombings on churches in the second-largest city of Surabaya, killing a dozen people including two young girls whose parents had involved them in one of the attacks. Police said the father was the leader of a local affiliate of ISIS known as Jemaah Anshorut Daulah.