2 Suicide Bombers Behind Makassar Church Attack, Indonesian Security Minister Says

Ronna Nirmala and Keisyah Aprilia
Jakarta and Palu, Indonesia
2 Suicide Bombers Behind Makassar Church Attack, Indonesian Security Minister Says Police officers inspect the area near a church where a bomb went off in a suspected suicide attack outside a Catholic church in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, March 28, 2021.

Updated at 12:03 p.m. ET on 2021-03-28

Two suicide bombers carried out an attack outside a church in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province that injured at least 20 people on Palm Sunday, the nation’s security ministry said, as the president condemned the act and urged Indonesians to “jointly fight terrorism.”

At least one of the suspects killed in the explosion was a member of a local cell of a pro-Islamic State Indonesian militant group that was linked to a deadly twin-bombing in the southern Philippines two years ago, the nation’s police chief said during a press conference on Sunday evening (local time).

“Two people suspected to be the suicide bombers died and 20 members of the public and church workers were injured,” Security Minister Mohammad Mahfud MD told reporters late Sunday.

The pair of suspects were on a motorcycle when they set off at least one bomb at the gate to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, a Catholic church in the provincial capital Makassar, as worshippers were leaving a Sunday Mass service, police said.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo vowed to go after and dismantle the group that carried out the attack.

“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,” Jokowi said in an online broadcast.

“I urge all members of society to jointly fight terrorism, radicalism that is against religious values – our noble values as a nation that upholds divine values and diversity.”

One bomb went off when security guards stopped the suspects’ motorbike at the entrance to the church grounds, national police spokesman Argo Yuwono told a televised news conference earlier in the day. 

“The church service had finished and worshipers were coming out of the church,” Argo said.

Argo said three security guards were among those injured and being treated at area hospitals.

The bombing was the first one targeting a church in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation since a family, including children, was involved in coordinated suicide attacks on churches in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, on May 13, 2018.

That attack and other terror plots around that time in Surabaya were linked to Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an Indonesian extremist network whose members are aligned with Islamic State (IS), authorities said.   

Muh Taufiqurrohman, a senior researcher at the Center for the Study of Radicalism and Deradicalization (PAKAR), said the attack on Sunday bore the hallmarks of JAD.

“If we look at the explosion, it was quite strong. Making such a bomb requires special expertise,” he told BenarNews.

The JAD in Makassar is one of the most active cells compared to other pro-Islamic State (IS) groups, Taufiqurrohman said. 

This past January in Makassar, police shot dead two JAD suspects with alleged links to Indonesian suicide bombers who carried out an attack that left 23 people dead at a church in the southern Philippines in January 2019.

The Makassar branch of JAD, Taufiqurrohman said, had close ties to Rullie Rian Zeke and Ulfah Handayani Saleh, the husband and wife who bombed the cathedral in Jolo, the capital of Sulu province in the Philippines, two years ago.

“Both attacks have similarities, targeting cathedral churches,” he said.

At a press conference in the evening, National Police chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo identified one of the suspects in the Palm Sunday bombing by his initial while confirming that he belonged to the Makassar area JAD cell.

“We have received information about the identity of the perpetrator, with the initial L. The person was in the group whose members were arrested some time ago,” Listyo said, referring to the counter-terror sweep against JAD suspects in South Sulawesi in early January 2021.

“This group is connected to the group that carried out the operation in Jolo,” he added.

A police officer stands guard near a church where a bomb exploded in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, March 28, 2021. [AP]

Police said that the latest blast took place at about 10:30 a.m. as a Sunday Mass was ending. Members of Indonesia’s Christian minority were marking Palm Sunday, the first day in Holy Week celebrations on the Christian calendar.

“There were several injured people on the street. I helped one woman ...who was wounded and covered in blood,” an eyewitness named Yosi told Agence France-Presse.

“Her grandchild was also injured. There were body parts everywhere.”

AFP quoted one witness as saying that two “very strong” explosions were heard.

Indonesia’s religious communities also condemned Sunday’s attack.

“It was an inhumane act that violates the tenets of any religion,” Anwar Abbas, deputy chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), the country’s semi-official authority on Islam, said in televised remarks.

“We call on authorities to apprehend the perpetrators and mastermind of the attack,” he added.  

Minister of Religious Affairs Yaqut Cholil Qoumas called the attack “heinous.”

“Whatever the motive, this action cannot be justified by any religion,” he said in a statement.

“The police need to improve security at places of worship so that our communities can worship peacefully and solemnly,” he added.   

The Indonesian Communion of Churches urged the faithful to remain calm.

“I call on all members of the community not to be afraid and restless,” chairman Gomar Gultom said.

“Please pray for our safety,” he said.


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