UPDATE: 7 p.m. ET March 28: This article has been updated to reflect information released by Indonesian authorities indicating that at least 20 people were injured during a suicide bombing after a Palm Sunday service believed to have been carried out by two attackers affiliated with a militant network that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
More than a dozen people were injured when two attackers blew themselves up outside a Catholic church in the Muslim-majority archipelago of Indonesia on Palm Sunday, the first day of the Holy Week.
The bomb exploded at the Cathedral Church in the city of Makassar in South Sulawesi province at about 10.30 a.m. on Sunday as the church was preparing for its third service, according to reports.
Police disclosed that at least 20 were wounded in the incident and that two attackers — one likely a woman — were instantly killed by the blast, according to the Associated Press.
The police also disclosed that those injured by the blast include churchgoers and four security guards.
National Police Chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo told the media that the two attackers are believed to have been members of Jemaah Anshorut Daulah and one of the attackers is thought to have links to a church bombing in the Philippines.
JAD pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State terror organization in 2018. According to the United Nations Security Council, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah "participates in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities" in conjunction with groups like the Islamic State and Al-Qaida.
The group was established in 2015 as an umbrella organization for over two dozen Indonesian extremist groups that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. JAD is the largest Islamic State-affiliated network in the country and has carried out several attacks.
In 2018, JAD carried out three attacks on churches in Surabaya that killed at least 13 people and injured dozens of others. The Islamic State took credit for that attack.
In 2017, the group was responsible for two suicide bombings in East Jakarta that killed three police officers.
“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 was quoted as saying by Agence-France Presse.
"The bike was destroyed and there are body parts,” he added.
A priest at the church, Father Wilhelmus Tulak, told Indonesian media that a security guard dealt with one suspected bomber who came on a motorbike and tried to get into the church. The incident happened after the second mass was completed.
Many churchgoers were injured after the explosion shattered glasses inside the church, he said.
“The third round was scheduled for 11:00 a.m. and we heard the explosion before [the mass] began,” Wilhelmus told Beritasatu TV.
Footage from a nearby security camera shows fire and smoke after a powerful blast occurred on the road outside the church, The Jakarta Globe reported, adding that the traffic in front of the church was thin.
Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas condemned the attack.
“Whatever the motive is, this attack cannot be justified by any religion because it only does harm to other people,” he was quoted as saying by the newspaper. “The police need to increase security profile around worship places to make sure people can observe their faith peacefully. This kind of violence can potentially rip apart the well-established harmony among our societies.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
According to BBC, the explosion happened at the church’s side entrance. Makassar Mayor Danny Pomanto said there could have been more casualties had the explosion occurred at the church’s main entrance.
A pastor from Bandung told International Christian Concern that police alerted churches in Indonesia to stay vigilant after the bombing. According to the nonprofit advocacy group, police conducted patrols and bolstered security at churches nationwide.
“As Christians around the world prepare themselves for the Holy Week, it is pure evil that the terrorists deliberately chose this time to attack and inflict suffering on Christians,” ICC’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia Gina Goh said in a statement. “We ask for prayers for the wounded and urge the Indonesian authorities to investigate and arrest the terrorists responsible for this attack. Terrorism should not be allowed to exist in a country that upholds Pancasila.”
The nonprofit Christian persecution watchdog agency Open Doors issued a call to prayer Sunday morning.
“Some believers have been severely wounded, and all present have been traumatised,” an Open Doors coordinator in South East Asia said in a statement. “We ask the worldwide church to pray for their brothers and sisters in Makassar.”
The Southeast Asian country is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. Its Constitution is based on the doctrine of Pancasila — five principles upholding the nation’s belief in the one and only God and social justice, humanity, unity and democracy for all.
However, there are many extremist groups in Indonesia, including the Islamic Defenders Front and the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, who oppose Pancasila.
Indonesia is ranked No. 47 on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List of countries where Christians face the greatest levels of persecution.
Last November, suspected terrorists slit the throats of three Christians, beheaded another, attacked a Salvation Army post and burned Christians' homes on the island of Sulawesi, according to Reuters.
In 2018, at least 15 victims were killed and 57 others were injured in suicide bombings in the Surabaya area in East Java that targeted three churches — Immaculate Saint Mary Catholic Church, Indonesia Christian Church and Surabaya Central Pentecost Church. The government suspected that terrorists aligned with a local Islamic State affiliate were behind the attacks.