A family of Islamic State-affiliated suicide bombers attacked three churches in Surabaya, Indonesia, this morning. Thirteen people were killed and 41 injured as they were making their way to Sunday services.
“This act is barbaric and beyond the limits of humanity, causing victims among members of society, the police and even innocent children,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said.
The churches bombed were Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church, Diponegoro Indonesian Christian Church and Santa Maria Catholic Church.
A family of six carried out the attacks. The mother with two daughters, aged 9 and 12, detonated bombs strapped to themselves at Diponegoro Indonesian Christian Church; while 16- and 18-year-old sons drove motorcycles into Santa Maria Catholic Church and detonated bombs strapped to themselves; and the father drove a bomb-ladened car into Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church.
The first attack occurred at 7:30 a.m. local time at the Catholic Church, and five minutes later the attacks at the two other churches were completed, according to the Jakarta Post. Officials believe the attacks were coordinated to inflict the greatest amount of damage as people were entering the churches for services.
The Unprecedented Nature of These Attacks
According to the BBC, “in recent years women have become increasingly active in terrorist cells in Indonesia, but this would be the first time children have been used.” The unique nature of a family coordinating a series of simultaneous attacks is unprecedented.
Commenting on the nature of the wife and two daughters used to carry out one of the attacks, Solahudin of the University of Indonesia’s Center for Terrorism Studies and Social Conflict told the Jakarta Post that women are used more in terrorist attacks because they draw less suspicion from security guards. They also attract more media attention, which is exactly what the Islamic State wants. “Terror without media will not successfully spread the fear. The news value of [using] women and children as bombers is higher than using male bombers,” Solahudin said. Additionally, he believes the attacks were meant to encourage other IS-sympathizers to be bolder in their aggression.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis prayed for the “dear people of Indonesia” and asked praying people to join him in praying for the besieged communities. “Together,” he said as quoted by vaticannews.va, “let us call upon the God of peace, that He might bring these violent actions to an end; and that in the hearts of all, space might be found for feelings, not of hatred and violence, but of reconciliation and fraternity.”
These are the deadliest terrorist attacks Indonesia has experienced since 2005. All three churches are located in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city situated on the island of Java. It is a port city and second only to the nation’s capital, Jakarta, in economic significance. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim nation by population. In recent years, the government has tried to stem the rise of support for the Islamic State. The first IS-affiliated terrorist attack occurred in 2016 in Jakarta.
The Indonesian church is not unfamiliar with terrorism. In 2000, simultaneous attacks killed 20 people attending Christmas services. Please pray for these churches as they begin the process of healing.