Trio of church bombings heralds start of terror in Indonesia

Worshippers pray at the Maria Grotto at the Santa Maria Tak Bercela Church (Church of Immaculate Santa Maria), Surabaya, Indonesia, one of the churches targeted in the May 13 attacks. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Published May 16, 2018
Worshippers pray at the Maria Grotto at the Santa Maria Tak Bercela Church (Church of Immaculate Santa Maria), Surabaya, one of the churches targeted in the May 13 attacks. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Three churches in Surabaya, the second-largest city in Indonesia, were attacked Sunday, May 13, in a co-ordinated terror attack said to have been carried out by members of a single family. At least 13 people were killed when bombs exploded at the city’s Gereja Kristen Indonesia (Christian Church of Indonesia) in Jalan Diponegoro; the Church of Immaculate Santa Maria, in Gubeng District; and the Pentecostal Church on Jalan Arjuna. Police foiled two further attacks.

On Sunday evening, two people were killed and two children injured when a bomb exploded in an apartment in Sidoarjo, East Java. Reports say that all four were members of one family, and that they were preparing a similar terror attack when their bomb exploded prematurely. The next day, Monday, May 14, four people were killed and 10 injured in another suicide bombing—this time at the Surabaya police headquarters.

These latest attacks were unusual in that they involved entire families. The first of Sunday’s attacks happened when two brothers, aged 16 and 18, drove motorcycles into Santa Maria Catholic Church. The boy’s mother was driven by their father to Diponegoro Indonesian Christian Church with their two daughters—aged 9 and 12—where she detonated a bomb. The father then continued to the Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church, where he detonated a car bomb.

Monday morning’s attack on the police station is said to have been carried out by a family of five who arrived at the scene on two motorbikes.

The Anglican Church in Surabaya, Christ Church, was not targeted in the attack; but its midday service was cancelled at the request of the police. The security services in Surabaya asked all churches to stop their services on Sunday as they assessed the security situation. The congregation of Christ Church meets for worship at Gereja Kristen Jawi Wetan—the East Java Christian Church, located near the site of the Christian Church of Indonesia building that was targeted in yesterday’s attack. The congregation met Sunday night for prayer in a local hotel.

“We are indeed saddened by the horrific suicide bombing of the three churches in Surabaya by a family of six,” the dean of the Gereja Anglikan Indonesia (the Anglican Church of Indonesia), the Rev. Timothy Chong, told ACNS. “Our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones in the attack.”

The Gereja Anglikan Indonesia (Anglican Church of Indonesia) is part of the Church of the Province of South East Asia, and is a missionary deanery in the diocese of Singapore. It is one of six missionary deaneries that the province is seeking to develop into full dioceses, alongside Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.

“The mood in the city remains sombre as people are trying to grapple with the aftermath of the attack,” Chong said. “This attack introduced a new strategy in the terrorist attack—the use of innocent children as suicide bombers. This new dynamic would certainly change the way we do Sunday school and children’s ministry, not only in Surabaya, but also in Christian churches and ministries throughout the nation.

“It also means that we have to put emphasis on tighter security measures in our churches and organizations.”

Chong asked Anglicans around the world to pray for “the safety of all our Christian brothers and sisters throughout Indonesia; for God’s peace to cover this nation; Christians to stand firm in their faith; wisdom for church leaders; Christians not to retaliate against their Muslim neighbours; the perpetrators would be found out and justice meted.”

He said that the attack reminded him of the words of Martin Luther in the hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God:

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, God hath willed,
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

The regional ecumenical group the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) has condemned the bomb blasts. “The attacks on churches in Surabaya are deliberate attempts by forces of evil in Indonesia that aim at destroying the country’s long nurtured and cherished values of religious harmony and the foundation of the long-cherished ‘Pancasila’ principles, which accept religious pluralism and call for unity in diversity,” CCA’s general secretary Mathews George Chunakara said.

He welcomed the response by the leadership of the national ecumenical group the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, which urged its member churches and congregations to stay calm in the face of violence, saying that members of the Christian communities must leave the responsibilities of handling the situation to the government.

In his traditional Sunday Angelus prayer at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, Pope Francis prayed for the “dear people of Indonesia,” saying: “Together, let us call upon the God of peace, that He might bring these violent actions to an end; and that in the hearts of all, space might be found for feelings, not of hatred and violence, but of reconciliation and fraternity.”

The attacks were condemned by political leaders around the world. A UN spokesperson said that the organization’s secretary general, António Guterres, was “appalled” by the attacks, adding that he “expresses his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a swift recovery to those injured.” The spokesperson added that Guterres “reiterates the support of the United Nations to the government and people of Indonesia in their efforts to fight and prevent terrorism and violent extremism, including through the promotion of pluralism, moderation and tolerance.”


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