SURABAYA, Indonesia (AP) — Suicide bombers on motorcycles and including a woman with children targeted Sunday Mass congregations in three churches in Indonesia’s second-largest city, killing at least 11 people and wounding dozens in one of the worst attacks on the country’s Christian minority, police said.
The bombings were the deadliest to target churches in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, since a series of attacks on Christmas Eve in 2000 killed 15 people and wounded nearly 100. Religious minorities in Indonesia, especially Christians, have been repeatedly targeted by militants.
The first attack struck the Santa Maria Roman Catholic Church in Surabaya, killing four people, including one or more bombers, police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera told reporters at the scene. He said two police officers were among a total of 41 wounded.
The blast was followed by a second explosion minutes later at the Christian Church of Diponegoro and a third at the city’s Pantekosta Church, Mangera said.
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo arrived in Surabaya, the East Java provincial capital, in the aftermath of the attacks, Mangera said.
A senior police official said the bombings were carried out by at least five suicide bombers, including a veiled woman who had two children with her. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.
A witness described the woman, saying she was carrying two bags at the Diponegoro church.
“At first officers blocked them in front of the churchyard, but the woman ignored and forced her way inside. Suddenly she hugged a civilian then (the bomb) exploded,” said the witness, a civilian guard named Antonius.
A local police chief, David Triyo Prasojo, said a bomb squad detonated an unexploded bomb at the Diponegoro church.
Shattered glass and chunks of concrete littered the entrance of the Santa Maria Church, which was sealed off by heavily armed police. Rescue personnel treated victims on a nearby field while officers inspected wrecked motorcycles in the parking lot that had been burned in the explosion.
A street merchant outside the church said she was blown away several meters (yards) by the powerful blast.
“I saw two men riding a motorbike forced their way into the churchyard. One was wearing black pants and one with a backpack,” said the merchant, Samsia, who uses a single name. “Soon after that the explosion happened.”
In Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, the Indonesian Church Association strongly condemned the attacks and called on people to wait for authorities to investigate.
“We are angry with these attacks, but we leave it to the authorities to resolve them,” said Gormar Gultom, an official with the association.
Two of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, also condemned the attacks.
National police spokesman Setyo Wasisto said police fatally shot four suspected militants and arrested two others early Sunday in West Java towns. It wasn’t clear if the shootings were connected with the church attacks.
“They have trained in order to attack police,” Wasisto said, identifying the militants as members of Jemaah Anshorut Daulah. The network of about two dozen extremist groups has been implicated in a number of attacks in Indonesia over the past year. It pledges allegiance to Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The church attacks came days after police ended a riot and hostage-taking at a detention center near Jakarta that left six officers and three inmates dead. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for that incident.
Indonesia has carried out a sustained crackdown on militants since bombings by al-Qaida-affiliated radicals in Bali in 2002 killed 202 people. In recent years, the country has faced a new threat as the rise of the Islamic State group in the Middle East invigorated local militant networks.
Christians, many of whom are from the ethnic Chinese minority, make up about 9 percent of Indonesia’s 260 million people.
Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini and Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.