Indonesian police today identified the suicide bomber who detonated eight pipe bombs outside a church building in Solo, Central Java on Sunday (Sept. 25). The bomber, Ahmad Yosepa Hayat, killed himself and wounded at least 20 church members.
“The church never expected anything like this to happen; this [suicide bombing] is indeed the first in church history in Indonesia,” a local source, who preferred to go unnamed, told Compass.
Police had been searching for Pino Damayanto, who used the alias of Ahmad Yosepa Hayat, in connection with a previous suicide bombing at a Cirebon, West Java mosque inside a police station in April, local news agency Antara reported. In that incident, the bomber died and 30 were injured.
Five men connected with the April bombing managed to escape arrest, National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Anton Bachrul Alam told Antara. The men were in possession of 15 pipe bombs. Hayat, who was one of the five, detonated eight of those bombs in Sunday’s attack, leaving seven bombs unaccounted for.
Police on Monday morning (Sept. 26) found a similar bomb outside the Maranatha Church in Ambon city, on the island of Ambon.
“This is the fourth bomb we’ve found in Ambon since Thursday,” Alam told reporters from The Jakarta Globe. “We still don’t know if these are related to the Solo bombing.”
Church Members ‘Not Afraid’
A total of 600 to 700 people attended the two services at Bethel Full Gospel Church (GBIS, or Gereja Bethel Injil Sepenuh) in Solo last Sunday, the same local source told Compass.
The explosion occurred at around 11 a.m., at the end of the second service.
“The bomber went into the church just as everyone was singing the last song,” the source said. “He must have felt uneasy about it, so he went out and waited in the church yard, where the motorbikes were parked.”
A Jakarta Post report confirmed that the bomber had briefly gone into the church building; witnesses said he had earlier asked for directions to the church and to the nearest Internet café.
“As soon as the service was over and people started to move, he blew himself up by the glass doors leading out of the sanctuary,” the source said. “Most of the victims are doing well now, except for 18-year-old Deviana, who is still in the ICU ward with nails and other objects implanted in her head.”
She has had some surgery and is responding well, he said.
“The church members are not afraid and they believe God was there to protect them,” the source explained. “In fact, on the day of the bombing, the guest preacher spoke about the ever-present help of God and quoted from the story of Stephen the martyr. Church members say the fact that nobody died, other than the bomber, is proof of God’s care for them.”
GBIS is an old church, established in 1947, with a big building and a relatively large congregation.
“The church has a good standing with other denominations and with the local government,” the source said. “So Solo takes this as a personal affront, not just an attack on the church.”
The church will be closed for at least a week while investigations take place, he said.
Religion, Terror or Both?
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in a televised address on Sunday, claimed that terrorism rather than any religious element was to blame for the attack.
He also used the bombing to gather support for new anti-terror provisions that would allow police and intelligence staff to carry out surveillance on any citizen without evidence of criminal activity, according to an Asia Times report published today.
Since June, police have captured or killed more than 20 suspected militants in Central Java. The city of Solo, also known as Surakarta, is home to the extremist Ngruki Islamic boarding school founded by militant Abu Bakar Ba’ashir, according to a Voice of America (VOA) report published Monday (Sept. 26). In June Ba’ashir was sentenced to 15 years for his role in a Bali bombing attack that killed more than 200 people.
But the church and mosque bombings were strangely out of character, according to security analyst Noor Huda Ismail. Solo has long been identified as a militant recruitment center, but not as a place “where they put into practice radical teachings,” Ismail told VOA. Students usually “strengthen their cause here but put their ideology into practice outside Java, for example in Ambon, Poso, Jakarta or Bali.”
The attack was likely the work of disgruntled former members of terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah and Darul Islam who felt their leaders were no longer actively pursuing jihad, Ismail said.
Other terror analysts claimed the bombing was likely triggered by a sectarian clash in Ambon on Sept. 11, in which seven people were killed and many buildings set on fire. The clash on Sept. 11 occurred after a text message circulated through Ambon falsely claiming that Christians had tortured and killed a Muslim motorcycle taxi driver. A similar text message also began circulating in East Java that day, urging Muslims to go to Ambon to wage jihad, according to the Jakarta Globe.
Sydney Jones of the International Crisis Group, however, told VOA on Monday (Sept. 26) that it was too early to link the Solo church bombing with events in Ambon.
“There has been a lot of material on radical websites expressing anger toward ‘crusader Christians’ and holding them responsible for the recent unrest [in Ambon],” she told VOA. “So a link wouldn’t surprise me. But we’ll just have to wait and see.”
In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, 88 percent of the total population of 233 million follow Islam, according to the Asia Times. Christians make up 10 percent of the population, according to Operation World.
While the country is supposedly a secular democracy, in recent times politicians have proposed and adopted more than 150 bylaws based on Islamic teachings, the national news magazine Tempo reported.
Human rights bodies such as the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace have also reported a stark rise in attacks on religious minorities this year, leading to calls for the government to take religious violence seriously.
The president should have flown to Solo with leaders of the country’s largest Muslim organizations to meet and commiserate with victims, Asia Times writer Gary LaMoshi said in an article published earlier today.
“Moreover, they should have reiterated that they stand by Indonesia’s constitutional protection of religious freedom, and assured the public that the state will take all necessary steps to guarantee it for all Indonesians regardless of their faith,” he declared.