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Coordinated suicide bombings of three Christian churches and the police headquarters in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, on last May 13–14, were repugnant acts of violence, Human Rights Watch said in a statement. The attackers intentionally used their own children, who were between the ages of 9 and 18, to either carry or detonate explosives or to accompany their parents carrying out the attacks.
The bombings killed at least 12 people, plus 13 attackers and their children, and wounded at least 50 others. Three families linked to the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, an affiliate of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Indonesia, carried out the attacks. ISIS claimed responsibility for the assault, which it called “martyrdom attacks,” on the east coast of Java Island, but provided no proof to substantiate its claim.
“The bombings of Christian churches show the grave risks Indonesia’s religious minorities face every day,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher. “The horror of these attacks was magnified by the attackers using their own children as suicide bombers.”
Attackers intentionally used their own children, who were between the ages of 9 and 18, to either carry or detonate explosives or to accompany their parents carrying out the attacks
The first attack occurred on the morning of May 13, when the two sons of Puji Kuswati and her husband Dita Oepriarto, ages 16 and 18, rode a shared motorcycle into the compound of the Santa Maria Catholic Church and then detonated concealed explosives, killing two church–goers and injuring six. Shortly after that.
Oepriarto detonated explosives that he concealed in a van that he had driven into the compound of Surabaya’s Pentecostal Central Church, Killing a security guard and a pedestrian. Minutes later, Kuswati entered Surabaya’s Indonesian Christian Church with her two daughters, ages 9 and 12. Witnesses say Kuswati detonated explosives concealed on her body, killing one security guard along with herself and her daughters.
The fourth suicide bombing attack occurred 12 hours later on May 14, when a family of five – two parents and three children–rode two motorcycles into the parking lot of the Surabaya police headquarters and detonated explosives concealed on their bodies and on the motorcycles. The blast killed the parents and two of their children and wounded six civilians and four policemen. The attackers’ 8–year–old daughter, who was riding on one of the two motorcycles, survived the blast.
JAD or Jamaah Ansharut Daulah as a terrorist organisation last year, describing it as an umbrella group formed in 2015 and composed of almost two dozen Indonesian extremist outfits that pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Police reported that a separate explosion on May 13 in a family dwelling in Wonocolo, a suburb of Surabaya, was a “premature” blast by another family plotting an attack on an “undisclosed target” in the city. That blast killed three people – a couple and their eldest son, 17 – and seriously injured two of their three other children.
President Joko Widodo immediately flew from Jakarta to Surabaya in the aftermath of the attacks, calling them “the act of cowards, undignified, and barbaric.” Indonesian National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian described the attacks a reprisal for Indonesia’s prosecution and imprisonment of the Jemaah Ansharut Daulah leadership and said that all three families implicated in the blasts had been friends.
Many Christian churches immediately canceled their Sunday services on May 13. Police also increased security in almost all major churches in big cities such as Jakarta, Surabaya, and Medan. The church attacks were the largest since Christmas Eve 2000, when more than 30 churches in eight cities were bombed simultaneously.
Across Indonesia, religious minorities, including Shia and Ahmadiyah Muslims, several Christian groups, and local religions, have been targets of harassment, intimidation, threats, and increasingly, violence. The Setara Institute, which monitors religious freedom in Indonesia, has documented several hundred cases of violent attacks against religious minorities over the last decade.
The US State Department designated JAD or Jamaah Ansharut Daulah as a terrorist organisation last year, describing it as an umbrella group formed in 2015 and composed of almost two dozen Indonesian extremist outfits that pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Indonesia has put on trial JAD’s leader, Aman Abdurrahman, for his alleged involvement in several bombings, including a January 2016 attack in which four people were killed and 25 wounded by a suicide bomber and gunmen in central Jakarta.
Aman was scheduled to appear at a court hearing last week, but it was postponed after a deadly riot broke out at the jail where Aman is being held in Depok, West Java, according to a report in the Jakarta Post.
During negotiations with police, inmates demanded to meet with Aman, a request the police later granted, the report said.
The riot, which had begun on Tuesday, was eventually put down after police forces stormed the facility Thursday.
Five police officers and one inmate were killed during the near 40–hour period of unrest.
The 2016 attack in Jakarta, which was also claimed by ISIS, was thought to be masterminded and financially supported by an Indonesian ISIS militant based in Syria, Bahrun Naim.
Naim was apprehended by Indonesian authorities in 2010 for illegal possession of ammunition and was sentenced to at least two and half years in prison.
He then left for Syria, where he was rumoured to have been killed last year.
Up to 700 Indonesians have travelled to Syria in recent years to fight with anti–regime forces, with the majority allying themselves with ISIS, according to the Indonesian government.
Indonesia fighters have also appeared in ISIS propaganda.
Indonesia has long struggled with domestic terrorist groups, particularly Jemaah Islamiyah, which claimed responsibility for 11 attacks between 2000 and 2010, including the deadly 2002 Bali bombings, which left more than 200 people dead and hundreds injured, many of them tourists.
Jemaah Islamiyah’s capabilities have been steadily eroded by a concerted counter–terrorism effort since 2009.
700 Indonesians have travelled to Syria in recent years to fight with anti–regime forces, with the majority allying themselves with ISIS, according to the Indonesian government. Indonesia fighters have also appeared in ISIS propaganda
Indonesia has invested heavily in counter–terrorism, establishing the elite special forces unit Detachment 88, which has received support and training from the US and Australia, and has been credited with greatly reducing the number of attacks.
However, in a report on ISIS published earlier this year, the UN Security Council said the group’s losses in Iraq and the Syria may intensify the threat to South–East Asia.
The report named JAD and Jamaah Ansarul Khilafah as key ISIS–linked groups in Indonesia, saying that the former has been responsible for more attacks, but that the latter is a “growing threat.” ■