Jakarta – Indonesia is once again gripped by fears of not only fresh terrorist attacks but also renewed religious violence, after two bombs exploded in a crowded market in central Sulawesi on May 28. At least 20 people were killed in Indonesia’s deadliest terrorist strike since the 2002 Bali bombing.
The explosions, occurring within minutes of each other, ripped through the centre of the mainly Christian town of Tentena, Poso. According to Mr Natan Setiabudi, the former head of Indonesia’s National Council of Churches, this was the first time that a predominantly Christian town had been targeted in Central Sulawesi, a region that is no stranger to sectarian violence. Between 2000 and 2003, more than 1,000 people died as a result of communal and religious clashes here.
Indonesian security officials were quick to point a finger at Azahari Husin, the fugitive Malaysian bomb expert from the Jemaah Islamiah (JI).
“We believe that this could be the work of Azahari and his JI protégés. Their prints are all over in the attack aimed at destabilising the area,” Mr Ansyaad Mbai, head of the counter-terrorism unit in Indonesia’s Security Ministry, told Singapore’s The Sunday Times.
“We know that JI has been courting several Muslim radical groups in Sulawesi and other parts of Indonesia to carry out bombings in the country over the next few months,” he added.
Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said: "I firmly believe the bombings had nothing to do with the local Islamic and Christian communities...The blasts were perpetrated by terrorists from outside.”
His view was echoed by Muslim and Christian religious leaders, who said that “external forces” – ranging from opponents of the government to Muslim extremists – were trying to ignite a religious war.
The strike came just two days after the United States closed all its diplomatic missions indefinitely across Indonesia amid heightened fears of a terrorist attack. There is speculation that JI may launch a strike against Western embassies, major hotels and entertainment spots in Jakarta itself.
In an editorial, Media Indonesia lamented at the inability of the security forces to anticipate the bomb attacks.
“There’s a bad practice in this country. The state of alert will be heightened after a tragedy has occurred. The police and intelligence agencies will be busy after the bomb has exploded and people have been killed – and then they will let their guard down again…To anticipate an incident after it has happened is certainly too late. The question is, when will this nation end its always-too-late mentality?”
* Religious leaders call for calm in Sulawesi (The Straits Times, May 30)
* Poso and the bomb (Media Indonesia, May 30)
* At least 19 killed in Poso market blasts (Antara, May 29)
* JI bomber behind blasts in Sulawesi (The Sunday Times, May 29)