Indonesian activists hold a candle-lit vigil for victims of suicide bomb attacks in Surabaya. Indonesian activists hold a candle-lit vigil for victims of suicide bomb attacks in Surabaya.  

Indonesian bishops express shock at suicide terror attacks involving children

A series of suicide bomb attacks, May 13 and 14, in Surabaya, included three churches. They were carried out by families, including women and children.

By Robin Gomes

Indonesian Church leaders have expressed shock at the new form of terrorism that became evident in a spate of suicide terror attacks Sunday and Monday in and around the eastern port city of Surabaya, in which three Christian churches were targeted, the Vatican’s Fides news agency reported. 

Attacks by families with children

Sunday’s attacks on churches were carried out by a husband, his wife and their four children, including a 9-year old girl. 

The first explosion on Sunday took place at Saint Mary Immaculate Catholic Church. The second at Surabaya Pentecostal Church and the third at Diponegoro Indonesian Christian Church (GKI)  went off five minutes apart, the police said.

Saint Jacob's Church and Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral were also targeted, but the bombs failed to explode.   Later, another explosion was reported at an apartment building in the neighbouring city of Sidoarjo.

Other attacks also took place on Monday.  A family of five, that included three children, carried out a suicide bombing on two motorcycles at the Surabaya police headquarters.

East Java Police said that 25 people were killed and dozens injured in the bombings over the two days.  Of the 25 dead, 13 were perpetrators. The police were now hunting a fourth family suspected of planning another attack.

Family tragedy

Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Jakarta, the president of the Indonesian Bishops' Conference (KWI), said that "planning and implementing a suicide attack by taking their children with them is a new" form "of violence.”  “It is a family tragedy.”

Commenting on the mother and her two small daughters, aged nine and 12, who carried out the suicide attack at the Indonesian Christian Church, he said that the two young daughters had no idea what would happen. 

According to Archbishop Suharyo, the Surabaya attacks "are not a religious problem, but mainly concern the existence of the unified Republic of Indonesia (Nkri)".   He noted that even the police have been targeted because they foil the plans of the terrorists.

Pancasila endangered

The world's largest archipelagic state with a myriad of ethnic groups, religions, languages and flora and fauna, Indonesia is also home to the world's largest Muslim population.   The nation has long been an example of peaceful harmony, tolerance and unity among its people, thanks to the Pancasila or the 5 principles on which state is based.  ‎

The vast majority of Indonesian Muslims are moderates, but recent incidents indicate that the growing phenomenon of Islamic radicalism ‎is threatening this unity amidst its diversity. 

The president of Indonesia’s Catholic bishops recalled that the nation if founded on the value of pluralism and the founding fathers agreed that the foundation of the state is the common ground of thought and commitment.  Indonesia consist of a variety of ethnic groups, religious confessions and social groups, he emphasized.

Children suicide bombers

Meanwhile, Fr. Siprianus Hormat, KWI Executive Secretary expressed Indonesia’s bishops shock and disappointment at the attacks and expressed their solidarity to the families of the victims and the injured.

Speaking to Fides,  he said it is “traumatic to know that a whole family of suicide bombers carried out the attacks.”   He said that the attacks raise the serious question about children being raised up on extremism.

Christian-Muslim dialogue, cooperation

Fr. Hormat said that with the terror attacks on the police and churches, the primary assets of coexistence and pluralism of Indonesian society are in danger. 

Indonesian Bishops, he said, “are involved in interreligious dialogue, and in these hours common initiatives are being carried out, between Christian and Muslim leaders, to stigmatize violence, hatred, and terrorism. Society must remain united and reject these evil forces".

Despite the tension and fear caused by the assaults, Indonesia’s bishops expressed “full confidence in the President, in public institutions and in the whole society, in order to stop extremism, which wants to poison society.”

Fr.  Hormat said that Christians in Surabaya are not intimidated.  They believe and work for dialogue and fraternity towards all. “Indonesia will not let the forces of evil destroy coexistence and democracy," Fr. Hormat added.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis on Sunday prayed for the repose of the souls of those who perished in the Surabaya suicide attacks and asked God to bring an end to hatred and violence. 

“I am particularly close to the dear people of Indonesia, in a special way to the Christian communities of the city of Surabaya who have been strongly hit by the serious attack against places of worship,” the pope said during his midday “Regina Coeli” prayer in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square. 

He offered his prayer for the victims and their relatives, and asked pilgrims to pray with him for “the God of peace to stop these violent acts, and that in the heart of all may be found space not for hatred or violence, but for reconciliation and fraternity.”


World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit condemned the Surabaya suicide bomb attacks, and offered “heartfelt condolences to the people who lost family members and friends.”  

“In the face of this brutality, the human family, all people of faith and of good will, must stand together to recommit to respecting and caring for one another, to protecting one another, and to preventing such violence,"  Tveit urged.

WCC appealed to Indonesian president Joko Widodo, religious leaders and governments across the region “to act swiftly and boldly to safeguard the fundamental religious rights of worshippers of all faiths, to ensure security in the face of violence and to guarantee justice for all people.” 

Tveit said, “Government action must be matched by solidarity among Christians, Muslims and people of all faiths as they interact at the local level and together denounce any violent attack.”

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15 May 2018, 17:39