Two dead, 19 wounded in suspected suicide blast outside Indonesian church

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Indonesian police found explosives on Monday in a raid in the city of Bekasi, related to Sunday's suicide attack on a cathedral on Sulawesi island.
Indonesian police examine the site outside a church after an explosion in Makassar on March 28, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
An Indonesian anti-terror policeman stands guard as police seal the area after an explosion outside a church in Makassar on March 28, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
Indonesian police carry a bag with the remains of a suspected suicide bomber after an explosion outside a church in Makassar on March 28, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
Indonesian forensic police examine the site after a suspected bomb exploded near a church in Makassar on March 28, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
The blast happened at around 10.30am outside the church in Makassar on March 28, 2021. PHOTOS: SCREENGRABS FROM TWITTER

JAKARTA - A blast outside a Catholic church in South Sulawesi's provincial capital Makassar on Sunday (March 28) killed two suspected suicide bombers and wounded at least 19 people, the police said.

National Police chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo told reporters one of the bombers was part of local terrorist outfit Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD). The JAD, which is loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is linked with a group involved in a militant attack on Jolo, in the Philippines in 2018.

In Sunday's attack, two people on a motorcycle tried to enter the cathedral compound after a mass ended, said National Police spokesman Argo Yuwono.

"The two persons were stopped by the church security officer and the blast occurred," he told reporters, adding that it took place at the church entrance gate at 10.20am Central Indonesia Time (10.20am Singapore time).

He said that a damaged vehicle and human remains were found at the scene, and police were still investigating.

Those wounded were being treated at nearby hospitals, he said.

South Sulawesi police spokesman E Zulpan told MetroTV that based on the remains, and a head scarf found at the scene, one of the bombers was a man and the other likely a woman.

President Joko Widodo strongly condemned the terrorist incident. He has ordered the national police chief to investigate the attack and dismantle the network to which the perpetrators are linked.

"Terrorism is a crime against humanity and is not related to any religion. All religious teachings reject terrorism, whatever the reason," he said.

"State apparatus won't allow such terrorist actions and I call on people to worship calmly, because the state guarantees the security of worshippers to worship without fear."

South Sulawesi police chief Inspector-General of Police Merdisyam told reporters that the bombing used "high explosives", but there was no significant damage at the church.

Security camera footage revealed a blast sent flame, smoke and debris into the middle of the road. General Listyo said the explosion was caused by a pressure cooker bomb.

He added that police were tracking down other suspects linked to the bombers, and had arrested four people.

The police have set up a cordon around the cathedral and a disaster victim identification team is investigating the incident.

Police noted that attackers with ties to the JAD were responsible for suicide attacks in 2018 on churches and a police post in Indonesia's second largest city Surabaya that killed over 30 people.

The militants, who were willing to use their wives and children as cover for the suicide bombings, deployed military-grade explosives.

Indonesia's anti-terrorism squad Densus 88 has intensified its efforts against terrorism in the country with the world's largest Muslim population since late last year, following an attack that killed four members of a Christian family in a remote village in Central Sulawesi in last November.

In early January, it arrested 20 terror suspects linked to the JAD in Makassar. Two of them resisted the arrest and were shot dead.

Earlier, a priest at the cathedral, Father Wilhelmus Tulak told Kompas TV that he heard a "very loud explosion" at around 10.30am, after a second mass finished.

"Two people on a motorbike wanted to enter (the church compound), but a security officer held them (at the gate) and the explosion occurred," he said, adding that the security officer had earlier observed the two "suspicious" persons.

Several worshippers who were near the location of the explosion and hit by flying glass from shattered windows were injured, Mr Wilhelmus noted.

Like their fellows in other parts of the world, Catholic worshippers in Indonesia are celebrating Palm Sunday, the first day of the Holy Week that will end with Easter, which this year will fall on April 4.

Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas strongly condemned the alleged bombing at the Makassar cathedral, which he described as "a dreadful action" that has tainted public order and contrary to any religious teaching.

"Whatever the motive is, the action cannot be justified by any religion because it not only harms the perpetrators, but also other people," he said.

Makassar mayor Mohammad Ramdhan Pomanto called on the city's dwellers to remain calm after the incident and stop spreading pictures or footage related to the attack through social media.

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