Newlywed Couple Launched Suicide Attack at Indonesian Church, Police Say

Arie Firdaus
Jakarta
2021-03-29
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Newlywed Couple Launched Suicide Attack at Indonesian Church, Police Say Two police officers carry plastic bags containing items recovered from the Makassar-area home of a couple suspected of carrying out a suicide bombing outside a church in Makassar on Palm Sunday, March 29, 2021.
Yayank Stiv/BenarNews

The two suspects who carried out a suicide bombing in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province on Palm Sunday were a newlywed couple and part of a local militant cell linked to another couple who blew themselves up at a Philippine cathedral in January 2019, police said Monday.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo condemned the attack outside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar that left the two suspected bombers dead and at least 20 others injured as an “act of terrorism.” He said he had ordered police to “thoroughly investigate the perpetrators’ networks and tear down the networks to their roots.”

Police said that Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a pro-Islamic State (IS) Indonesian militant network, was behind Sunday’s attack.

On Monday, authorities said that the suspected perpetrators of the bombing were a husband and wife, whom police identified only by their initials. Officials also revealed that Muhammad Rizaldy S, a suspected member of the Makassar JAD cell who was killed in counter-terror raids in early January, had presided over their wedding.

“We have confirmed the identity of the bombers. The male one is identified as L. The female one is YSL,” national police chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo told reporters, adding that their identities were confirmed through DNA tests.

“L and YSR were married six months ago by Rizaldy,” he said.

JAD’s Makassar cell also was linked to an Indonesian couple, Rullie Rian Zeke and Ulfah Handayani Saleh, who carried out a twin suicide bombing that killed 21 people and themselves at a church in Jolo, southern Philippines, two years ago, the police chief said.

“Rizaldy and Zulfikar were JAD members who had ties to the cathedral bombing in the Philippines,” Listyo said, referring to another JAD suspect who was arrested during the counter-terrorism sweep in January.

On Monday, government security officials in the southern Philippines did not immediately respond to BenarNews requests for comment about the alleged link between the church bombings in the neighboring countries.

The suspects involved in Sunday’s attack were killed when they detonated at least one bomb as security guards stopped their motorcycle at the gate to the church, officials said.

The attack took place as members of Indonesia’s Christian minority were marking Palm Sunday, the first day in Holy Week celebrations on the Christian calendar.

Listyo said the husband in the Makassar church attack left a goodbye message for his parents, declaring his readiness “to be a martyr.”

Home searched

On Monday, police searched the couple’s Makassar-area home.

“Our team is expanding the investigation to find more people who were involved, including those who made the bombs,” said E. Zulpan, the provincial police spokesman.

A neighbor, Siti Hasnawati, said they had lived there for about four months but rarely socialized.

The husband “didn’t have a job and rarely left the house. His wife made a living selling food at home,” Siti told BenarNews by phone.

The mother of the newlywed bride said she had not seen her daughter for a long time, according to Detik.com, an Indonesian news website.

“After she got married, she rarely came to visit,” it quoted her as saying.

Arrests

Since the attack on Sunday, police have arrested 13 people as part of the investigation.

Four people who were from the same militant cell as the couple were arrested in Makassar.

“They were involved in indoctrinating, planning and buying materials used for suicide bombings,” Listyo said.

Another five JAD suspects were arrested in Bima, West Nusa Tenggara province, and four more were caught in Jakarta and the neighboring suburb of Bekasi, Listyo said.

Again, police identified all the suspects by their initials only.

In Jakarta and Bekasi, police said they confiscated five bombs and five large jars containing bomb-making materials.

A bomb squad detonated the explosive devices after attempts to defuse them failed, Listyo said.

One of the suspects arrested after the Makassar attack, identified as ZA, had purchased the bomb-making materials and taught two of the other new suspects in custody how to build bombs, said Inspector Gen. Fadli Imran, Jakarta’s police chief.

Security in the Indonesian capital has been tightened in the wake of the Makassar attack, with soldiers involved in joint patrols, according to Brig. Gen. Hendro Pandowo, Jakarta’s deputy police chief.

“In order security and safety to the public, we are conducting large-scale patrols around churches and other places of worship,” Hendro told reporters.

Sunday’s attack was not the first one in Indonesian involving a married couple.

A couple and their four children carried out a suicide attack on three churches in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, on May 13, 2018. The attack killed 18 people, including the bombers.

The next day, another couple took their three children along in a suicide attack on the Surabaya police headquarters, killing themselves except for one the children.

Those attacks were blamed on JAD.   

Although the Islamic State extremist group has urged women to fight, local pro-IS leaders have not made similar calls, said Muhammad Adhe Bhakti, a researcher at the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies (PAKAR).

“Even Aman (Abdurrahman) was opposed to and condemned the attack in Surabaya,” Adhe told BenarNews, referring to the JAD founder who is on death row after a Jakarta court sentenced him to death in 2018.

Militants may see that the involvement of women increases their chances of success in carrying out terrorist acts, he said.

“Women are less suspicious, even more so when they are with children,” Adhe said.

Keisyah Aprilia contributed to this report from Palu, Indonesia. 

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