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Family of suicide bombers linked to Islamic State carries out attacks on three churches in Indonesia

Authorities say three churches were targeted in Surabaya and one member of the family was only nine years old

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2018, 9:47am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 May, 2018, 11:31am

Suicide bombers who carried out deadly attacks on three churches in Indonesia’s second-largest city on Sunday were a family of six that included two young children, police said.

At least 13 people, including all six family members, died in the attacks in Surabaya and at least 41 were injured, according to police, in acts that Indonesia’s president condemned as “barbaric”.

The bombings were the worst to target churches in Indonesia since a series of attacks on Christmas Eve in 2000 killed 15 people and wounded nearly 100. 

Religious minorities in Indonesia, especially Christians, have repeatedly been targeted by militants.

National police chief Tito Karnavian said the father exploded a car bomb, the two sons aged 18 and 16 used a motorcycle for their attack, and the mother was with daughters aged 12 and 9 for her attack.

Karnavian said the family had been to Syria, where until recently Islamic State controlled significant territory.

The extremist group claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attacks in a statement carried by its Amaq news agency.

The first attack struck the Santa Maria Roman Catholic Church in Surabaya, police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera told reporters at the scene. That blast was followed by a second explosion minutes later at the Christian Church of Diponegoro and a third at the city’s Pantekosta Church, she said.

A witness described the woman’s attack at the Diponegoro church, saying she was carrying two bags when she arrived.

“At first officers blocked them in front of the churchyard, but the woman ignored them and forced her way inside. Suddenly she hugged a civilian then [the bomb] exploded,” said the witness, a security guard who identified himself as Antonius.

Mangera said three unexploded home-made bombs, two at the Pantekosta church and one at the Diponegoro church, were detonated by a bomb squad.

Shattered glass and chunks of concrete littered the entrance of the Santa Maria Church, which was sealed off by armed police. Rescue personnel treated victims at a nearby field while officers inspected wrecked motorcycles in the car park that had been burned in the explosion.

Samsia, a street merchant outside the church, said she was blown several metres by the blast.

“I saw two men riding a motorbike force their way into the churchyard. One was wearing black pants and one with a backpack,” she said. “Shortly after that the explosion happened.”

President Joko Widodo visited the scenes of the attacks and described them as “cowardly actions” that were “very barbaric and beyond the limit of humanity”.

In Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, the Indonesian Church Association condemned the attacks.

“We are angry,” said Gormar Gultom, an official with the association, but urged people to let the police investigation take its course.

Indonesia’s two largest Muslim organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, also condemned the attacks.

Separately, national police spokesman Setyo Wasisto said police fatally shot four suspected militants and arrested two others early on Sunday in West Java towns. It wasn’t clear whether the shootings were connected to the church attacks.

“They have trained in order to attack police,” Wasisto said, identifying the militants as members of Jemaah Anshorut Daulah, an Islamic State group-affiliated network of about two dozen extremist groups that has been implicated in a number of attacks in Indonesia over the past year.

Jakarta police placed the capital and surrounding areas on high alert, while the transport ministry warned airports to be on guard.

The church attacks came days after police ended a hostage-taking ordeal by imprisoned Islamic militants at a detention centre near Jakarta in which six officers and three inmates died. IS claimed responsibility.

Timeline of previous attacks

December, 2000: Improvised bombs disguised as Christmas gifts delivered to churches and clergymen kill 19 people and injure scores more across Indonesia.

October, 2002: Bombs at crowded nightspots in the resort island of Bali kill 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, in Indonesia’s worst-ever terror attack.

September, 2004: A suicide car bomb kills 10 outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta.

May, 2005: Twin bomb blasts kill 22 at a market in the Central Sulawesi town of Tentena in an attack bearing the hallmarks of radical group Jemaah Islamiah.

October, 2005: Three suicide bombers detonate explosives at tourist spots on Bali, killing 20.

July, 2009: Seven people are killed, six of them foreigners, and more than 40 injured when suicide bombers target the luxury Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels in Jakarta.

January, 2016: A gun and suicide attack in the capital Jakarta left four attackers and four civilians dead, and was the first assault claimed by Islamic State (IS) in Southeast Asia.

May, 2017: Suicide attacks killed three policemen and injured a dozen others at a busy bus station in Jakarta in an attack claimed by IS.

February, 2018: A radical Islamist, who had wanted to fight with Islamic State in Syria, injured four people with a sword in an attack during Sunday mass in Sleman town in Java.

May, 2018: Five police officers and a prisoner were killed in clashes at a high-security jail that saw Islamist inmates take an officer hostage. IS claimed responsibility for the incident.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press