United Kingdom

Two suicide bombers with allegiances to Islamic State blow themselves up outside Indonesian church

Two suicide bombers believed to be members of a militant network with Islamic State allegiances have blown themselves up outside a church packed with Palm Sunday Mass parishioners in Indonesia.

At least 20 church parishioners and security guards were injured in the blast outside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar on the island of Sulawesi on Sunday morning.

The Roman Catholic congregation had just finished celebrating Palm Sunday Mass when they were rocked by a loud bang outside on the street. 

Church priest Reverend Wilhelmus Tulak said the blast went off as a first batch of parishioners were walking out of the church and another group was coming in.

He said church security guards became suspicious of two men on a motorcycle who wanted to enter the building and when they went to confront them, one of the men detonated his explosives.

Police later said both attackers were killed instantly and evidence collected at the scene indicated one of them was a woman. 

Two suicide bombers were killed after they blew themselves up outside a Roman Catholic Church on Sunday. Pictured are police officers and rescue workers carrying a body bag from the scene of the blast in South Sulawesi, Indonesia

The two attackers are believed to have been members of the militant group Jemaah Anshorut Daulah, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State group and was responsible for deadly suicide bombings on Indonesian churches in 2018, National Police Chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo told reporters.

He said one of the attackers was believed to have links to a church bombing in the Philippines.

The attack a week before Easter in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation came as the country was on high alert following December's arrest of the leader of the Southeast Asian militant group, Jemaah Islamiah, which has been designated a terror group by many nations.

Indonesia has been battling militants since bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002 claimed 202 lives, including 88 Australians. 

Police have identified one of Sunday's attackers only by his initial, L, who they believe was connected to a 2019 suicide attack that killed 23 people at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in the Philippine province of Sulu, Prabowo said.

He said the two attackers were linked to a group of suspected militants arrested in Makassar on January 6, when a police counterterrorism squad shot and killed two suspected militants and arrested 19 others.

The street outside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar was closed for the rest of Sunday as forensic police examined the scene and cleaned up scattered debris

The blast went off as a first batch of parishioners were walking out of the church and another group was coming in. Pictured is the cordoned-off scene afterwards

'We are still searching other members of the group and I have ordered the Densus 88 to pursue their movement,' Prabowo said, referring to Indonesia´s elite police counter-terrorism squad.

Indonesia´s last major attack was in May 2018, when two families carried out a series of suicide bombings on churches in the city of Surabaya, killing a dozen people including two young girls whose parents had involved them in one of the attacks. Police said the father was the leader of a local affiliate of Jemaah Anshorut Daulah.

President Joko Widodo condemned Sunday's attack in a televised address to the nation.

'I call on people to remain calm while worshipping because the state guarantees you can worship without fear,' Widodo said.

He offered his prayers to those injured and said the government would cover all medical costs.

He said he had ordered the national police chief to crack down on any militant network that may be involved.

At least 20 people were injured the blast outside a Catholic church in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia on Sunday morning

Police officers kept a close guard near a church where an explosion went off in Makassar, which inured more than 20 parishioners and security guards from the church

The blast has been condemned by church leaders worldwide. 

At the end of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter´s Basilica, which opened Holy Week ceremonies at the Vatican, Pope Francis invited prayers for the victims of violence. 

He cited in particular 'those of the attack that took place this morning in Indonesia, in front of the Cathedral of Makassar.´´

A video of the scene of the attack obtained by The Associated Press showed body parts scattered near a burning motorbike at the gates of the church.

At least 20 people were wounded in the attack and had been admitted to hospitals for treatment, said Mohammad Mahfud, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.

Indonesia has been on high alert since police in December arrested Jemaah Islamiyah leader Aris Sumarsono, also known as Zulkarnaen. Over the past month the country's counterterrorism squad has arrested about 64 suspects, including 19 in Makassar, following a tip-off about possible attacks against police and places of worship.

Jemaah Islamiyah was once considered the preeminent terror network in south-east Asia, but has been weakened in recent years by a sustained crackdown. 

Police remained at the scene of the blast hours later as the Indonesian president and church leaders worldwide condemned the attack

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