(Changing headline, reducing death toll to one, changing lead)
By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife)– A suicide bomber attacked a Protestant church packed with worshippers in Indonesia’s Central Java province on Sunday, September 25, killing himself while injuring over 20 others, police and officials said.
“I can confirm that there was a suicide bomb attack in Church Bethel Injil at 10.55,” said Central Java provincial police spokesman Djihartono, who uses one name, in a statement. The one killed in front of the church is highly suspected as the suicide bomber. A total of 17 people are wounded and treated,” he added.
Hospital and other officials later said as many as 27 people were injured.
Police earlier said two people were killed, but later clarified that the only person who died was the bomber.
The coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Djoko Suyanto, said authorities wold examine closed circuit footage from the church to identify the suicide bomber.
It was not immediately clear which group, if anyone, was behind the blast in the provincial city of Solo. However Solo is the home of radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir who has been jailed for 12 years for funding a terrorist group that was planning attacks against Westerners and political leaders.
He is also considered the spiritual leader behind the group that killed more than 200 people in Bali in 2002.
Additionally, Christian churches have been targeted by Islamic militants who oppose the spread of Christianity and want to establish strict Islamic rule in several parts of the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
A witness told local station MetroTV that she heard the blast just after she walked out of the church.
“Everyone was screaming,” Fani said. “I saw fiery sparks and, near the entrance, a man dead on the ground, his entrails spilling out. People around him were splattered with blood.”
Hundreds of worshippers were reportedly gathered at the church when the explosion rocked the building.
The attack was the latest in several reported sectarian clashes and attacks against Christians in Indonesia.
Hundreds of special police arrived last week to help in Indonesia’s eastern Maluku province after rioting between Muslims and Christians on September 11 and 12 left three people dead and at least 60 injured.
The rioting was sparked by the death of a Muslim motorcycle taxi driver, but Christians say militants are trying to look for any reason to create religious tensions. Police already said the man died in a collision, but Muslim militants allegedly spread false information that he had been “tortured and killed” by Christians.
Security forces reportedly fired into a crowd in the city of Ambon September 11, to dispel rival groups who were fighting with rocks and machetes.
Indonesia’s government has urged all parties in the city to help calm the situation.
Sunday’s suicide attack against the Java church was expected however to also further heighten tensions in these and other regions of Indonesia.
Mainly Muslim Indonesia has large Christian communities in Maluku, once known as the Spice Islands.
Fighting between Muslims and Christians reportedly killed more than 9,000 people there between 1999 and 2002.