By Megan Tanuwidjaja
On March 29, a suicide bombing carried out by two newly-weds rocked the Christian community of Indonesia. The attack happened outside a Catholic Cathedral during Palm Sunday Mass. The two perpetrators are confirmed dead, and about twenty civilians were wounded, Mahfud MD, the Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, announced during a televised press conference.
Police Chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo said the attackers were members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a pro-Islamic State extremist group that also claimed responsibility for the 2018 church bombings in Surabaya, Indonesia, that killed eighteen congregants.
“It happened as we were finishing the service and people were going home,” Reverend Tulak, a priest from the cathedral, said on Metro TV. “A security officer tried to stop them, and that’s when they detonated the bomb.” The couple did not manage to enter the church because of the officer who intervened; if they had gotten inside, it likely would have led to more casualties. National Police Spokesman Inspector General Argo Yuwono said during the press conference that “the explosion happened at the main gate of the church.”
Responding to queries about how the suicide bombers were in possession of the bomb in the first place, Commissioner General Amar said that they had received online training through their local JAD branch. Authorities who raided the couple's home in Makassar and other JAD members’ homes in Jakarta discovered a large stockpile of bomb-making ingredients and powerful explosives. According to Prabowo, “The group members each have their own role, including buying the ingredients, teaching how to create the bombs and how to use them.”
Upon further investigation, officials found that the perpetrators were both in their twenties and married six months ago. A Makassar resident said that the male bomber, only identified as “L,” was a local street food vendor who lived close to his parents’ home. “He was a nice kid... but when he got older he didn’t really socialize around here,” Nuraini, who like many Indonesians only go by one name, told AFP. “L” left his family a suicide note saying that he was ready to die as a martyr.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has since said that he “strongly condemns this act of terror.” He made a statement in front of the cathedral and ordered the chief of police to crack down on all militant extremist groups in Indonesia. “I call on all Indonesians to fight against all acts of terrorism,” he said. “I ask the people to remain calm, to worship without fear.”
Churches are common targets for terrorist attacks in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. Extremist groups often recruit through family frameworks through marriage and children. The church bombings of 2018 were carried out by three families, including a family of five, whose children were ages eight, nine and twelve. Many Indonesians have called for the Indonesian government to increase security measures at non-Muslim places of worship while initiating extensive efforts to counter the threat of terrorism within its borders.