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Indonesia cathedral bombing an ‘act of terror,’ says president

An Indonesian cathedral was rocked by a suspected suicide bombing on Sunday that wounded more than a dozen as Christians inside celebrated the start of Holy Week, an attack slammed by the country’s leader as an “act of terror”.

The powerful blast outside a church hosting around 100 people in Makassar city on Sulawesi island happened around 10:30 am local time (0330 GMT) and left at least 14 church officials and congregants injured by debris, police said.

Authorities have said it appeared that at least one of two attackers who drove into the church compound on a motorcycle was killed in the blast.

Forensic investigators were poring over body parts of the suspected attackers scattered at the scene to determine the fate of the second suspect and to identify those behind what authorities have called a “suspected suicide bombing”.

“There were two people riding on a motorbike when the explosion happened at the main gate of the church — the perpetrators were trying to enter the compound,” National Police spokesman Argo Yuwono said.

One eyewitness described hearing two “very strong” explosions and then seeing plumes of smoke at the scene.

“There were several injured people on the street. I helped one woman…who was wounded and covered in blood,” Yosi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP.

“Her grandchild was also injured. There were body parts everywhere.”

It was not clear if the victims’ wounds were life-threatening.

“We were finishing the service and people were going home when it happened,” Pastor Wilhelmus Tulak told reporters.

– ‘Act of terror’ –

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he “strongly condemned this act of terror”.

“Terrorism is a crime against humanity,” Widodo said.

“I call on everyone to fight against terror and radicalism, which go against religious values.”

Amnesty International said the bombing showed “complete contempt” for human rights.

The explosion at the main Catholic cathedral in Makassar — a port city of about 1.5 million — happened just after congregants finished celebrating Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, which commemorates Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem.

It comes a week before Easter.

In his mass for Palm Sunday, Pope Francis said he prayed for all the victims of violence “especially those of this morning’s attack in Indonesia, in front of the Cathedral of Makassar”.

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Churches have been targeted in the past by extremists in Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation and home to several religious minorities including Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.

Sunday’s attack follows the arrest in recent months of dozens of militants suspected of planning terror attacks, according to Indonesia’s counter-terror squad.

In 2018, a dozen people were killed when a family of suicide bombers blew themselves up at churches during Sunday services in Indonesia’s second-biggest city Surabaya.

The family — including two daughters aged nine and 12 — and another family of five, which carried out a suicide bombing on a police headquarters, all belonged to the same Koran study group.

They were also linked to local extremist network Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

JAD, which has not claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack, gained notoriety in 2016 for a gun and suicide bomb attack in the capital Jakarta that killed four civilians and four attackers — including one who blew himself up at a Starbucks outlet.

It was the first attack claimed by Islamic State in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia has long struggled with Islamist militancy and has suffered a series of attacks in the past two decades, including the 2002 Bali bombings which killed more than 200 people, mostly foreign tourists. The bombings were Indonesia’s deadliest terror attack.

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