Indonesian police said they were intensifying their search for a pair of men believed to be the ideological teachers of three families involved in suicide bombings in East Java province, while officers fatally shot two suspected militants in separate incidents on Tuesday.
One family set off bombs at three churches on Sunday morning in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, while another family blew themselves up at a checkpoint outside police headquarters there the next day. A third family’s bomb exploded prematurely in their apartment Sunday night, according to police.
“We are still in pursuit. There are two I hope to arrest soon,” East Java Police Chief Machfud Arifin said without naming the suspects.
Surviving children from a couple of the families told police about the men and meetings that their families attended, authorities said.
As many as 34 people, including 21 suspects, were killed in the spate of Islamic State-linked attacks and counter-terrorist operations that unfolded over the past three days, according to figures compiled by BenarNews.
On Tuesday night, members of the nation’s elite police wing Densus 88 killed a suspect during a shootout in East Java when officers tried to arrest him over his alleged role in the suicide attacks, officials said. Officers said they shot another suspect in the leg and arrested three others.
Provincial police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera said the dead suspect was about 40 years old. His body was sent to the Police Bhayangkara Hospital for identification.
Meanwhile, National Police Chief Tito Karnavian confirmed that a second suspected militant was killed in a shootout in another part of the country.
“Most recently, Densus 88 arrested five suspected terrorists in Tanjung Balai, North Sumatra,” he told a television audience Tuesday night, referring to the dead suspect and the four others.
In East Java, police said they had arrested 13 suspected militants in Surabaya, Sidoarjo, Pasuruan and Malang since the suicide attacks began.
Frans said the suspects were linked to Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a local group inspired by the so-called Islamic State (IS). The international extremist group claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks through its Amaq news agency.
Children link suicide families
On Sunday morning, Dita Apriyanto, 47, his wife, Puji Kuswati, 43, and their four children were killed while carrying out bomb attacks at three Surabaya churches.
A bomb exploded prematurely Sunday night in an apartment occupied by a family headed by a man identified as Anton Febrianto, police said. Anton, his wife Puspita Sari, and a child were killed. Three children survived.
A day later, Tri Murtiono, 50, his wife, Tri Ernawati, 43, and their children blew themselves up outside Surabaya city police headquarters, authorities said.
The family’s youngest child, an 8-year-old girl, survived the blast while her two older brothers died with their parents.
Machfud said the surviving children told investigators about the three families attending meetings together.
“Every Sunday there was a routine meeting spent with the families,” Machfud said about the revelations, adding that the meetings focused on preparing for a jihad and sometimes included the viewing of jihadist videos.
“Regular Quran recitation every Sunday, often at Dita’s house,” he added.
Dita has been identified as a JAD cell leader in East Java.
Priest calls for forgiveness
The suicide bombings shocked Indonesians because these marked the first time in the country that radicalized people had involved their children, including girls as young as 8 and 9, in committing terrorist attacks, police said.
Even though Sunday’s bombings targeted members of the Christian minority, a priest at Santa Maria Tak Bercela Catholic Church, which was attacked that day in Surabaya, said Catholics should not be afraid. Terrorists, he said, were the victims of their own misunderstanding and people should learn to coexist.
“By practicing coexistence, mutual help, and standing shoulder to shoulder, terrorist acts will be replaced by peace,” Father Aloysius Widyawan said, advising Christians and others to forgive the terrorists.
“Fear is a human thing, but if we are afraid without doing acts of kindness, ultimately it will not make things better,” he said.
Meanwhile in Indonesia’s capital, interfaith leaders and others gathered Tuesday to support government efforts to combat terrorism.
“These incidents [in Surabaya] have gone beyond human boundaries by killing many people, even small children involved in the terror movement,” said a joint statement issued by participants in the Movement of Citizens against Terrorism, which rallied in Jakarta.
Sinta Nuriyah Wahid, the widow of former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), who was known to his admirers as the “father of pluralism,” said such attacks could destroy a nation.
“But I am sure that, with this incident, the brotherhood of the nation will become stronger based on Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution,” she said, referring to Indonesia’s five-pillared state philosophy that emphasizes national unity and pluralism.
Abdul Moqsith Ghazali, who represented the board of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the nation’s leading body of scholars of Islam and the religion’s jurisprudence, spoke out against the terror acts carried out by Muslim families.
“Terrorism is not based on religion because it is wrong. Involving women and children is clearly wrong. In Islam, suicide is forbidden,” he said.
In other related developments on Tuesday, the Philippine government said its embassy in Jakarta had been in touch with more than 250 Filipinos in Surabaya, following the bombings.
The government has advised the Filipinos to remain vigilant and to limit their movements until the situation normalizes, Manila said.
Elsewhere, Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning the terrorist attacks and calling on the Indonesian government should reach to the victims of the church attacks as well as surviving children who were used in carrying out the acts.
“The bombings of Christian churches show the grave risks Indonesia’s religious minorities face every day,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher for the New York-based international rights watchdog. “The horror of these attacks was magnified by the attackers using their own children as suicide bombers.”
“Deploying children in such a way is indefensible and deplorable,” he added.