Two suicide bombers who injured at least 20 outside a Roman Catholic cathedral in Indonesia during a Palm Sunday Mass are believed to be part a militant network that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
The bomb exploded at around 10.30am on Sunday as Catholic worshippers had just finished the Sunday service marking the beginning of the Holy Week before Easter.
The wounded included four guards and several churchgoers, police said.
Police said both attackers, who were killed instantly, are believed to have been members of the militant group Jemaah Anshorut Daulah, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State group and was responsible for deadly suicide bombings on Indonesian churches in 2018.
National Police Chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo added that one of the attackers has been identified only by his initial, L, and they believe he was connected to a 2019 suicide attack that killed 23 people at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in the Philippine province of Sulu.
Evidence at the scene also suggests the attackers were a man and a woman.
Prabowo said the two attackers were linked to a group of suspected militants arrested in Makassar on January 6, when a police counterterrorism squad shot and killed two suspected militants and arrested 19 others. It is alleged that the two slain men were involved in the Philippine suicide bombing.
He said police have arrested four suspected militants believed to have links with the Palm Sunday Mass attackers in a raid in Bima, a city on Sumbawa island in East Nusa Tenggara province.
“We are still searching other members of the group and I have ordered the Densus 88 to pursue their movement,” Prabowo said, referring to the police counter-terrorism squad.
A video obtained by the Associated Press showed a burning motorbike at the gates of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province.
Wilhelmus Tulak, a Catholic priest who had been leading the Mass when the bomb exploded at about 10.30am, told reporters that a loud bang shocked his congregation.
The first batch of churchgoers were walking out of the church while another group was coming in when the blast happened, he said.
He said security guards had suspected two motorists who wanted to enter the church and confronted them.
One then detonated his explosives and died near the gate. The injured included four guards and several churchgoers.
The attack came as Indonesia was on high alert following the arrest of Aris Sumarsono, known as Zulkarnaen, the leader of Jemmaah Islamiyah, in December.
Over the past month, Indonesia's counter-terrorism squad has arrested around 64 suspects, including 19 in Makassar, after a tip-off about possible attacks against police and places of worship.
President Joko Widodo offered his prayers to those injured int he attack and said the government would cover all medical costs.
He also condemned Sunday’s attack in a televised address and said it has nothing to do with any religion as all religions would not tolerate any kind of terrorism.
“I call on people to remain calm while worshipping because the state guarantees you can worship without fear,” Widodo said.
Pope Francis also invited prayers for the victims of Sunday's violence at the end of Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, which opened Holy Week ceremonies at the Vatican.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, has been battling militants since bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.
Attacks aimed at foreigners have been largely replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, police and anti-terrorism forces and people militants consider as infidels.
A court banned Jemaah Islamiyah in 2008, and the group was weakened by a sustained crackdown. A new threat has emerged in recent years inspired by the Islamic State group’s attacks abroad.
The country’s last major attack was in May 2018, when two families carried out suicide bombings in the second-largest city of Surabaya, killing a dozen people including two young girls whose parents had involved them in one of the attacks.
Police said the father was the leader of a local affiliate of the Islamic State group known as Jemaah Anshorut Daulah.