Suicide attack rocks Indonesia church, several wounded

At least 20 wounded after attackers detonate explosives outside a packed church during Palm Sunday Mass.

Armed police officers stand guard along a closed road following an explosion outside a Catholic church in Makassar, South Sulawesi province, Indonesia, March 28, 2021 [Arnas Padda/Antara Foto via Reuters]

Two suicide bombers detonated explosives outside a Catholic church in the Indonesian city of Makassar, wounding at least 20 people on the first day of the Easter Holy Week, police said.

The attack took place on Sunday at a time the congregation was inside the church on the island of Sulawesi, just as the mass was ending.

The two suspects were the only fatalities.

National Police Chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo told reporters that the two attackers are believed to have been members of the armed group Jemaah Anshorut Daulah (JAD), which has pledged allegiance to ISIS and was responsible for deadly suicide bombings on Indonesian churches in 2018.

“I strongly condemn this act of terrorism and I have ordered the police chief to thoroughly investigate the perpetrators’ networks and tear down the networks to their roots,” President Joko Widodo said in an online broadcast following the attack.

Indonesian police carry a bag with the remains of a suspected suicide bomber after an explosion outside a church in Makassar [Indra Abriyanto/AFP]

Father Wilhelmus Tulak, a priest who was leading mass at the time of the explosion, told Indonesian media the church’s security guards suspected two motorists who wanted to enter the church. One of them detonated their explosives and died near the gate after being confronted by guards.

He said the explosion occurred at about 10:30am (03:30 GMT) and that none of the worshippers was killed.

Security camera footage showed a blast that blew flame, smoke and debris into the middle of the road.

Makassar Mayor Danny Pomanto said the blast could have caused far more casualties if it had taken place at the church’s main gate instead of a side entrance.

Indonesian forensic police examine the site after a suspected bomb exploded near a church in Makassar [Indra Abriyanto/AFP]

Police have previously blamed the JAD group for suicide attacks in 2018 on churches and a police post in the city of Surabaya that killed more than 30 people.

Boy Rafli Amar, the head of the country’s National Counterterrorism Agency, described Sunday’s attack as an act of “terrorism”.

Makassar, Sulawesi’s biggest city, reflects the religious makeup of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country with a substantial Christian minority and followers of other religions.

“Whatever the motive is, this act isn’t justified by any religion because it harms not just one person but others, too,” Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, Indonesia’s religious affairs minister, said in a statement.

Gomar Gultom, head of the Indonesian Council of Churches, described the attack as a “cruel incident” as Christians were celebrating Palm Sunday, and urged people to remain calm and trust the authorities.

Indonesia’s deadliest attack took place on the tourist island of Bali in 2002, when bombers killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists.

In subsequent years, security forces in Indonesia scored some major successes in tackling armed groups but, more recently, there has been a resurgence of violence.

An Indonesian policeman stands guard at the site of the explosion outside the church in Makassar [Indra Abriyanto/AFP]
Source: News Agencies