Thursday 15 November 2018

Single family of six blamed for series of deadly church attacks

Police help a woman looking for family members at the blast at the Pentecost Church Central in Surabaya. Photo: Antara Foto/Moch Asim via REUTERS
Police help a woman looking for family members at the blast at the Pentecost Church Central in Surabaya. Photo: Antara Foto/Moch Asim via REUTERS

Mattha Busby

A series of deadly suicide bomb attacks claimed by Isil on Indonesian churches was carried out by six members of a single family, police have said, as the world's most populous Muslim nation recoiled in horror at the attack on the country's Christian minority.

The national police chief, Tito Karnavian, said yesterday's attacks, which killed at least 13 people including the six bombers, and injured more than 40 others, were carried out by children, teenagers and adults from a family who were among 500 Isil sympathisers who had returned from Syria.

Smoke billows into the sky after the attack on the Pentecost Church Central in Surabaya. Photo: Antara Foto/Handout Surabaya Government via REUTERS
Smoke billows into the sky after the attack on the Pentecost Church Central in Surabaya. Photo: Antara Foto/Handout Surabaya Government via REUTERS

He said the family's father detonated car bombs at Surabaya's Pentecostal Church, two sons aged 18 and 16 used motorcycles in their attack on Santa Maria Catholic Church, and the mother and two daughters, aged 12 and 9, had explosives strapped to them when they attacked Diponegoro Indonesian Christian Church.

"The husband drove the car, an Avanza, that contained explosives and rammed it into the gate in front of that church," East Java police spokesperson Frans Barung Mangera told reporters at the regional police headquarters in Surabaya. He called on people to remain calm.

The wife and two daughters were involved in an attack on a second church, and at the third church "two other children rode the motorbike and had the bomb across their laps", he said.

Isil claimed responsibility for the attacks in Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, the Islamist militant group's Amaq news agency said, without providing any substantiating evidence to support its claim.

"This act is barbaric and beyond the limits of humanity, causing victims among members of society, the police and even innocent children," President Joko Widodo said during a visit to the scene.

Streets around the bombed churches were blocked by checkpoints and heavily armed police stood guard as forensic and bomb squad officers combed the area for evidence. Television footage showed the Indonesian Christian Church where the yard in front appeared engulfed in fire.

A large blast was heard hours after the attacks, which Mr Mangera said was a bomb disposal squad dealing with a device.

Veiled women had entered the yard where they were stopped by a security guard before an explosion occurred at the same spot, according to the police report.

Television images showed toppled and burnt motorcycles and debris scattered around the entrance of one church and police cordoning off areas as crowds gathered.

At St Mary's Catholic Church, the first place of worship to be attacked, the bombing was perpetrated while the church prepared to hold another service, after an earlier one had concluded. Separately, an internal police report said a suspected car bomb exploded in the car park of the Pentecostal Church, setting alight dozens of motorbikes.

The near-simultaneous attacks took place during yesterday morning's masses in the predominantly Muslim country, days after police ended a riot at a detention centre following a 36-hour standoff that left five dead and five injured after hostages were taken.

On Friday, a group of 70 prominent Muslim scholars meeting in Bogor, Indonesia, made a joint declaration denouncing violent extremism and terrorism, including suicide attacks, which they categorically stated are against Islamic principles.

Indonesia has seen a recent resurgence in homegrown militancy, although it has carried out a sustained crackdown since bombings by al-Qa'ida-affiliated radicals in Bali in 2002 killed 202 people.

Churches have also been targeted previously, including near-simultaneous attacks on churches there at Christmas in 2000 that killed about 20 people.

And in January 2016, four suicide bombers and gunmen attacked a shopping area in central Jakarta, leaving another four dead and 23 injured.

Independent News Service

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