Attempted Bombings, Assassination Target Indonesian Christians

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Jemaah Islamiyah Suspected in Attacks on Churches
by Samuel Rionaldo

JAKARTA (Compass) -- In recent weeks, unknown assailants have targeted Christian churches in Indonesia with attempted bombings and bomb threats.

The latest church bombing attempt occurred on Sunday, September 28, at the Gereja Kristen Sulawesi Tengah (GKST) church in Tomata village, Tojo district, reports Mona Saroinsong, a senior church official in Sulawesi. A church worker found the bomb before the 9 a.m. service and reported it to the police. The police removed the bomb and exploded it harmlessly in the street. This incident joins a half dozen other bomb threats involving Christian churches in recent weeks.

Police believe Jemaah Islamiyah and other terrorist networks are behind the assaults.

Two days after a powerful car bomb exploded at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta on August 5, unknown attackers tried to bomb a Protestant church in North Sumatra, Compass has learned.

According to witnesses, on the morning of August 7, a motorcyclist placed a suspicious bundle tied up in black plastic against the wall of the Batak Protestant Church in the village of Penyampehan, Deli Serdang, then quickly fled the scene.

When church leader Japen Ginting arrived a half hour later and saw the package in the church yard, he immediately reported it to the Pancurbatu police. A police bomb squad responded and opened the package, finding a clock, remote control, battery and cables inside.

“The bomb was inactive,” local police commissioner Bagus Kurniawan said. Nevertheless, he ordered an investigation to determine who might have fabricated the device.

This was the second bomb incident involving a Christian church in Pancurbatu. In 2001, a bomb was discovered at another church near the Batak Protestant Church. It, too, failed to explode.

Local church leaders suspect Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists of involvement in the incidents. However, Kurniawan said that the recent case might be the work of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), a separatist organization fighting for an independent Islamic state. That opinion gained support when a GAM operative was later arrested in North Sumatra.

According to reports from Jakarta, several churches in the capital have received bomb threats in recent weeks.

Albert Spenser, an official of the Tiberias Church in North Jakarta, said an anonymous caller made repeated phone calls to the church on August 12 and 13, claiming he had planted explosives in the building. Spencer immediately reported the incident to local police, who searched in vain for a bomb, then placed guards at the church.

In a similar incident, Rev. Siahaan, pastor of the Protestant church in Pejompongan Street, received an anonymous call indicating that a bomb had been placed in the church yard and would explode within minutes. The church sexton immediately called police, who promptly came and searched the church property but found nothing.

According to sources, the Bethel Church in the city’s northern district of Cilincing, a Protestant church in West Jakarta and other local congregations in the Indonesian capital have received identical threats in recent weeks, prompting police to provide extra security at the sites, especially on worship days.

The recent arrest of Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, in Ayutthaya, Thailand, may shed light on the rash of bomb threats. Hambali has been linked with 39 bombing attacks in Indonesia, some involving churches.

Among Hambali’s alleged targets are the Santa Anna Catholic Church in Jakarta, the Indonesia Christ Church and the Protestant Christian Church in Medan. He may also be involved in attacks against the homes of Protestant pastors in Riau and Medan.

In other news, a former Muslim named Jono was killed by three bullets to his back while riding his motorbike in Pandiri village, 22 kilometers from Poso, on October 1. Two men escaping from the murder scene shot and wounded a passenger of a car which gave chase. Villagers of Tagolu village who saw the second shooting followed the two men to Kebang Rejo village in Poso city, but stopped chasing them there, as the village is populated with Muslims.

Saroinsong reports that Jono, 44, was a civil servant in the education department in Pamona district, near Tentena. He was also a newspaper agent, delivering papers from Poso to Tentena and its surroundings. His wife is an elementary school teacher and an elder in the Moria congregation, one of GKST’s churches in Tentena. Saroinsong reported that Jono converted a long time ago and was a faithful Christian up to his murder.