MAKASSAR, Indonesia – A suicide bomber blew himself up and injured at least 14 people during a Palm Sunday mass in front of a crowded Roman Catholic cathedral on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, police said.
Cellular video obtained from The Associated Press showed body parts scattered near a burning motorcycle outside the gates of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Makassar, capital of South Sulawesi province.
The attack came while Indonesia was on high alert following the arrest of Aris Sumarsono, known as Zulkarnaen, leader of the Jemmaah Islamiyah, in December.
Wilhelmus Tulak, a Catholic priest who presided over mass when the bomb exploded around 10:30 a.m., told reporters that a loud bang shocked his congregation, which had just finished the Sunday service at the beginning of Holy Week before Easter.
The first group of churchgoers left the church while another group came in when the explosion happened, he said.
He said security guards suspected two motorists trying to enter the church. One of them detonated its explosives and died near the gate after being confronted by guards. The wounded included four guards and several churchgoers.
National Police spokesman Argo Yuwono said at a press conference in the capital Jakarta that police were still trying to identify two attackers on a motorcycle who were using strong explosives.
He said police are investigating whether they are affiliated with a local subsidiary of the banned Jemaah Islamiyah network or acting independently.
About 64 suspects were arrested in several provinces by Indonesia’s counter-terrorism force known as Densus 88, including 19 in Makassar last month. The arrests followed an indication of possible attacks against the police and places of worship.
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Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim majority nation, has been fighting militants since the bombings on the holiday island of Bali in 2002. 202 people were killed, mainly foreign tourists. Attacks on foreigners have been largely replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes against the government, police and counter-terrorism forces, as well as by militants who are considered infidels.
A court banned Jemaah Islamiyah in 2008, and continued crackdown has weakened the group. In recent years a new threat has emerged, inspired by the attacks by the Islamic state group abroad.
The country’s last major attack was in May 2018 when two families in Surabaya, the second largest city, committed suicide bombings that killed a dozen people, including two young girls whose parents they had been involved in one of the attacks. Police said the father was the head of a local member of the Islamic State Group known as Jemaah Anshorut Daulah.