Indonesian police foiled Islamic extremists’ plan to bomb a church ahead of Easter celebrations in Serpong, just outside of the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.
On Thursday, authorities discovered about 150 kg (3330 pounds) of explosives not far from Christ Cathedral Church.
Bombs were found beneath a gas pipeline and in bags near the church entrance. Police safely diffused the explosives after 10 painstaking hours, according to officials.
The militant cell had planned to detonate the explosives remotely using a mobile phone at 9 a.m. on Good Friday, just when service at the 3,000-seat Catholic church would begin.
Authorities were led to the bombs’ location after arresting 19 suspects in alleged connection to a suicide bombing in West Java, and parcel bombs mailed to advocates for religious pluralism. Last week, a suicide bombing at a mosque within a police compound left more than 30 people injured, mostly officers – marking the first suicide bombing in Indonesia.
“At this moment, it looks like a new [terrorist] cell,” announced national police spokesman Maj. Gen. Anton Bachrul Alam, according to The Associated Press.
Alam pointed out that suspects were all in their 30s, and a number of them were university graduates. “They wanted to make a movie and then broadcast it ... that was the plan," he added.
On Friday, Indonesian officials placed the nation in a state of high alert – ramping up security at embassies, religious sites and tourist destinations as well as areas frequented by foreign diplomats.
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Indonesia is a secular nation that is predominantly Muslim, but has battled Islamic extremists since 2002 when the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group bombed two nightclubs in Bali island, killing 202 people of whom many were tourists from overseas.
Operatives associated with these mainline groups have since been on the run in light of increasing government pressures.
However, the terrorist plots in recent days including the bomb plot on Thursday highlight the presence of solo “jihadis” and smaller cells that have little or no influence from larger terror networks, and can operate below police radar.
Inspired by terrorist activities in the Middle East, violent offshoots seem to have directed their focus on Indonesia’s moderate leaders, so-called “deviant” Muslim sects, and Christian minorities.
Nonetheless, al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah continue to remain active in Indonesia.
Thursday’s bomb plot did not deter thousands of worshippers who flocked to service in Christ Cathedral Church and other Christian sites on Good Friday.
“If we didn't come today ... the terrorists would just be laughing happily,” said Grace Lianawati, according to AP. “We're just grateful that the government foiled this plot. Just imagine how bad it could have been.”