A Year On, Survivor of Indonesian Church Bombings Forgives Perpetrators

Yovinus Guntur
Surabaya, Indonesia
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190514-ID-surabaya-620.jpg Indonesian Muslim women participate in a vigil at the Santa Maria Immaculate Church in Surabaya as they mark the first anniversary in memory of suicide bombings at three churches in the city, May 13, 2019.
Yovinus Guntur/BenarNews

Updated at 4:35 p.m. ET on 2019-05-14

Desmonda Paramartha was horribly injured during suicide bombings by a couple and their children at three churches here a year ago, but the university student says she holds no grudges.

On the anniversary of the coordinated attacks – the first terrorist act carried out by an entire family in Indonesia – Desmonda joined hundreds of people of different faiths during a vigil at one of the churches targeted in the May 13, 2018 bombings.

Together at Surabaya’s Santa Maria Immaculate Church on Monday night, Christians and Muslims lit candles and prayed for the dead. Fourteen worshippers died in the attacks linked to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

“I have forgiven them for everything,” said Desmonda, 21, whose injuries to the back and legs took two months to heal. “What strengthens me is the encouragement from my family, my priest, and friends so I’m able to accept and forgive the perpetrators.”

Kurdo Irianto, who served as a priest at the church, said it took five months for the congregation to recover.

“Being together helps us overcome the trauma more easily,” he said.

During the vigil members of Indonesia’s Christian minority and Muslim majority followed each other’s religious customs in praying for peace.

“This is a moment to remind us that last year’s events have made us even more united despite our differences. We don’t feel alone,” said Abigail Susana, a representative of the Surabaya Central Pentecostal Church.

Survivors remain traumatized by the bombings even as they try to move on, she said.

“They don’t even have the stomach to see CCTV footage from the time of the incident. We changed the worship schedule from morning to afternoon,” she said.

Aan Anshori, an activist with the Gusdurian Network, an Islamic group, was among those who took part in the vigil.

“The May 13 events are a reminder to strengthen our faith, fight against all forms of intolerance and radicalism. We must never allow this atrocity to happen again,” he told other participants.

Aan said the attacks had strengthened the bond between religious communities in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city and the capital of East Java province.

“We have become closer, meet more frequently to exchange ideas and look after each other,” Aan told reporters.

Tri Rismaharini, the mayor of Surabaya, welcomed efforts by interfaith communities to maintain harmony in the city.

“We appreciate that and we will fully support it,” she said.


Sunday attacks

On May 13, 2018, the bombers attacked the Surabaya Central Pentecostal Church, the Santa Maria Immaculate Church and the Indonesian Christian Church.

Dita Apriyanto, who police described as the leader of an East Java cell of Jamaah Anshaarut Daulah (JAD), drove a minivan packed with explosives into a church during Sunday services.

His wife, Puji Kuswati, and their two daughters, ages 9 and 12, set off suicide bombs prior to another church service. Elsewhere, the couple’s two sons, ages 16 and 18, blew themselves up at a third church using scooters packed with bombs, police said.

JAD is an Indonesian militant network affiliated with IS, according to authorities.

The next day, another family launched a suicide bomb attack at a police headquarters in Surabaya.

Survivors of Tri Murtiono, who carried out the May 14, 2018, suicide bombing at the police headquarters with his wife and three children, two of whom were killed in the attack, declined to comment. Tri and his family approached the police station on two motorcycles laden with explosives before detonating them, officials said.

The bomber’s daughter who survived the blast is being cared for today at a rehabilitation center outside of Jakarta under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Affairs, said Kukuh Santoso, a local neighborhood leader.

“That’s what I can say, because the perpetrators’ relatives still don’t want to accept guests, especially from the media. I have been asked to give information to the media,” Kukuh said.

In total, the four attacks killed 24 people, including children who joined their parents in the bombings.

Photographs of suicide bombing victims are displayed at the Santa Maria Immaculate Church in Surabaya, Indonesia, May 13, 2019. [Yovinus Guntur/BenarNews]
Photographs of suicide bombing victims are displayed at the Santa Maria Immaculate Church in Surabaya, Indonesia, May 13, 2019. [Yovinus Guntur/BenarNews]

Deadly spate

The Surabaya attacks occurred a few days after terrorist inmates rioted over a food complaint at a maximum-security prison in West Java’s Depok district, leaving five police officers and an inmate dead.

On May 13, 2018, hours after the church attacks, a bomb exploded prematurely 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 while three other children survived the explosion in Sidoarja, a regency south of Surabaya.

Later that year, Aman Abdurrahman, a JAD ideologue who pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was sentenced to death by a Jakarta court for his role in a series of terror attacks in Indonesia in recent years.

In July 2018, a South Jakarta District Court declared JAD an outlawed organization.

The bombings spurred the Indonesian parliament to fast-track an anti-terror law that allows police to detain suspects for 21 days without charge.

Since the spate of attacks in May 2018, the national police said they had arrested more than 400 suspects. The most recent arrest occurred on Tuesday when the anti-terror Detachment 88 police unit apprehended a militant suspect in the city of Madiun near Surabaya, provincial police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera told BenarNews without releasing additional details.


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