Suspected ISIS-Inspired Suicide Bombers Attack Indonesian Churches, At Least 13 Dead, 40 Injured
JAKARTA–AA family of six launched suicide attacks on Christians attending Sunday services at three churches in Indonesia’s second-largest city of Surabaya, killing at least 13 people and wounding 40, officials said.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has seen a recent resurgence in homegrown militancy inspired in part by ISIS. Police said the family who carried out Sunday’s attacks were among 500 Islamic sympathizers who had returned from Syria.
“The husband drove the car, an Avanza, that contained explosives and rammed it into the gate in front of that church,” East Java police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera told reporters at the regional police headquarters in Surabaya.
The wife and two daughters were involved in an attack on a second church and at the third church “two other children rode the motorbike and had the bomb across their laps”, Mangera said.
The two daughters were aged 12 and 9 while the other two, thought to be the man’s sons, were 18 and 16, police said.
They blamed the bombings on the ISIS-inspired group Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD).
JAD is an umbrella organisation on a U.S. State Department “terrorist” list that is estimated to have drawn hundreds of ISIS sympathizers in Indonesia.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, in a message carried on its Amaq news agency.
East Java police spokesman Mangera said the attacks had killed at least 13 people and 40 had been taken to hospital, including two police officers. He called on people to remain calm.
Television footage showed one church where the yard in front appeared engulfed in fire, with thick, black smoke billowing up. A large blast was heard hours after the attacks, which Mangera said was a bomb disposal squad “securing” a remaining device.
The attacks come days after terrorist Islamist prisoners killed five members of an elite counter-terrorism force during a 36-hour standoff at a high security jail on the outskirts of the capital, Jakarta.
The church attacks were likely linked to the prison hostage standoff, said Wawan Purwanto, communication director at Indonesia’s intelligence agency.
“The main target is still security authorities, but we can say that there are alternative (targets) if the main targets are blocked,” he said.
Suicide Attack Used Motorbike
At St Mary’s catholic church, one of the places of worship attacked, the bombing happened after an earlier mass was over and when the church was getting ready to hold another service.
Inspector general Machfud Arifin told CNN Indonesia that the suicide attacks were carried out using a motorbike at St Mary’s church and a car at another.
Earlier, media reports said a woman with a younger child and a teenager had just entered one church and was being questioned by security when the bomb exploded.
Television images showed toppled and burnt motorcycles and debris scattered around the entrance of one church and police cordoning off areas as crowds gathered.
Nearly 90 percent of Indonesians are Muslim, but the country is also home to sizeable communities of Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and people who adhere to traditional beliefs. The majority of the Sunni Muslim population in Surabaya, East Java, adhere to an interpretation of Islam that subscribes to religious tolerance.
Indonesia has had some major successes tackling Islamic terrorists inspired by al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States in 2001. But there has been a resurgence of homegrown Islamist activity in recent years that preach violent jihad against the West and Christian organisations, some of it linked to the rise of ISIS.
The most serious incident was in January 2016 when four suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a shopping area in central Jakarta.
Churches have also been targeted previously, including near-simultaneous attacks on churches there at Christmas in 2000 that killed about 20 people.
Police ordered the temporary closure of all churches in Surabaya on Sunday, and a large food festival in the city was cancelled.
By Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Fransiska Nangoy