Two Indonesian Churches Attacked, Three People Injured

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Terrorists stage simultaneous bombing and shooting attacks on Sunday.

by Sarah Page

DUBLIN, December 15 (Compass) -- Assailants simultaneously attacked two churches in the town of Palu, Central Sulawesi, during church services on Sunday night, injuring at least three people.

The attacks happened despite government orders for local police to step up security in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

A bomb exploded at Emanuel church in downtown Palu in the early evening at the same time that gunmen opened fire on the congregation of Anugerah church in the south of the city, according to an ABC Radio Australia report.

The government immediately ordered tighter security during the Christmas season for churches in at-risk areas. Officials also criticized local police for not doing their job effectively.

Provincial police chief Aryanto Sutadi told reporters from Agence France Presse that Noman Siswandi, chief of police in Palu, would be replaced due to negligence. “He should have been providing better police protection for the churches,” Sutadi said.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla told The Jakarta Post on Monday that the events over the weekend were linked to earlier attacks on churches in the province.

“From the briefing I received last night, that is the case,” a media outlet known as Detikcom quoted Kalla as saying. “The modus operandi is the same. Shoot, run, get away on an RX King motorcycle from the front of the church.”

The attack on Anugerah church closely resembled the attack on Efatah church in Palu on July 18. That night during an evening prayer service, at least three men drove up outside the church on motorbikes and sprayed the congregation with bullets. Rev. Susianty Tinulele, 26, a visiting speaker at the church, died instantly.

Four other church members were also injured, including 17-year-old Desrianti Tengkede. The girl spent weeks in intensive care recovering from injuries sustained when a bullet passed through her right eye. (See Compass Direct, “Death Toll Rises in Sulawesi, Indonesia,” July 22, 2004.)

Police were immediately ordered to find the men responsible for the attack on Efatah. One suspect arrested by police in Palu on July 29 was released after providing a solid alibi. Bambang, who was shot and wounded by police officers during his arrest, was apparently with friends at a house in Betua sub-district at the time of the shooting.

Masked gunmen also used motorbikes to approach the Kilo Tabernakel Pentecostal church in Poso, also in Central Sulawesi, on April 10. Firing at choir members who had gathered that Saturday to practice for Easter Sunday services, the attackers wounded seven people, including a four-year-old girl.

To date, police have failed to apprehend anyone responsible for the attacks. As Compass reported in late October, both Muslims and Christians speculate as to why police have not tracked down the mysterious drive-by killers who have murdered at least five Christians and wounded several others in Central Sulawesi this year. (See Compass Direct, “Indonesian Man Shot in Church,” October 27, 2004.)

On March 30, 2004, Pastor Freddy Wuisan from Membuke, near Poso, was shot and killed upon answering a knock at his front door. That same day, Rosia Pilongo, the dean of the School of Law at Sintuwu Moroso University in Poso and a Christian, was seriously wounded in a drive-by shooting.

Christian lawyer Ferry Silalahi was fatally shot on May 25 as he and his wife left a church meeting in a private home in Palu. Silalahi was one of the state prosecutors of five accused Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists. He was also part of the defense team for Rev. Rinaldy Damanik, a pastor imprisoned until last month on what many people believe were false charges of possessing weapons.

On July 17, Mrs. Helmy Tombiling, a 35-year-old Christian woman from Poso, was stabbed to death by two men who arrived at her house on motorbikes with Palu license plates.

Unidentified snipers shot and injured Hans Sanipi, the 25-year-old custodian of the Tabernakel Pentecostal church, on October 21. Sanipi was speaking with several people in front of the church when two men on a motorbike drove by and fired into the small crowd.

On November 4, a group of men sitting outside a petrol station in Poso was intrigued when a black plastic bag was dropped from the window of a passing vehicle. On investigation, the black bag was found to contain the severed head of 48-year-old Sarminalis Ndele, a Christian pastor and the chief of Pinedapa village in Poso district. Again, police failed to identify the murderers.

The island of Sulawesi is unfortunately no stranger to violence. An estimated 2,000 people were killed in clashes between Muslims and Christians on the island between December 1998 and December 2001. On December 20, 2001, representatives from both sides signed the Malino I peace accord.

Those clashes were a side effect of sectarian violence in the nearby Maluku islands, where approximately 8,000 people were killed in a four-year period from 1999 to 2002.

Despite a second Malino peace accord signed in the Malukus in February 2002, sporadic violence has continued in both Sulawesi and Ambon. The majority of the victims are Christians.

Observers say provocateurs are doing their best to stir up renewed conflict. Officials of both the government and police forces have commended Christians in Palu and Poso for refusing to retaliate.