Two attackers believed to be members of a militant network that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group blew themselves up outside a packed Roman Catholic cathedral during a Palm Sunday Mass on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island, wounding at least 20 people, police said.
Rev. Wilhelmus Tulak, a priest at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, said he had just finished celebrating Palm Sunday Mass when a loud bang shocked his congregation.
He said the blast went off at about 10:30 a.m. as a first batch of churchgoers was walking out of the church and another group was coming in.
He said security guards at the church were suspicious of two men on a motorcycle who wanted to enter the building and when they went to confront them, one of the men detonated his explosives.
Police later said both attackers were killed instantly and evidence collected at the scene indicated one of the two was a woman. The wounded included four guards and several churchgoers, police said.
National Police Chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo told reporters when he visited the crime scene late Sunday that the two attackers 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.
He said one of the attackers was believed to have links to a church bombing in the Philippines.
At least 20 people were wounded in the attack and had been admitted to hospitals for treatment, said Mohammad Mahfud, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.
Indonesia has been on high alert since police in December arrested Jemaah Islamiyah leader Aris Sumarsono, also known as Zulkarnaen. Over the past month the country’s counterterrorism squad has arrested about 64 suspects, including 19 in Makassar, following a tipoff about possible attacks against police and places of worship.
Jemaah Islamiyah was once considered the preeminent terror network in Southeast Asia, but has been weakened over the past decade by a sustained crackdown.
In recent years, however, a new threat has emerged in militants who fought with the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and returned to Indonesia or those inspired by the group’s attacks abroad.