33 injured in Medan church blast

Attack blamed on Muslim extremists as a sweep finds bombs in two other churches; officials fear clashes.

A homemade bomb exploded in a Protestant church in Medan yesterday, injuring more than 30 people, in what government officials fear could escalate into deadly sectarian and religious clashes in the North Sumatran capital.

Indonesian military intelligence sources, blaming the attack on Muslim extremists, said a second bomb was found in anotherchurch. It failed to detonate because of a faulty timer.

“They want to provoke Muslims and Christians to fight each other – similar to what is happening in the Maluku islands,” a source said.

Following the discovery of a second bomb, security forces carried out a sweep of all churches and mosques in the city and found a third bomb in a church opposite the largest shopping mall in Medan.

A senior armed forces (TNI) intelligence source said preliminary investigations revealed that “Muslim radicals” might be behind the bomb blast – but he declined to name any group.

Yesterday’s blast took place against a backdrop of growing violence in Indonesia. Only last week, students and police had clashed in Jakarta, triggering a wave of riots in the capital. Flashpoints also remain in Aceh and the Maluku islands.

North Sumatra police chief Brig-Gen Sutanto told The Straits Times that the first bomb rocked the Indonesian Protestant Church (GKPI) at about 8.30am during a morning service attended by some 600 people.

The explosion injured 33 people, half of whom sustained serious shrapnel injuries. He disclosed that the bomb was homemade and contained two-cm-long nails which went flying in all directions when it exploded.

A second bomb, found in the Huria Christian Batak Protestant Church (HKBP), was of a similar make. Church administrator Edwin Tobing found the device in a black duffel bag on a seat an hour after church service was over.

“There were wires and cables. I was shocked,” he told The Straits Times.

A bomb disposal unit called in to deactivate the bomb found that the timer was set at 10 am, the start of the Sunday sermon.

Mr Tobing said the timer had failed but the bomb unit, not wanting to take any chances, took it to an open field near the church, where it was detonated at 2 pm. By then, the bomb squad had also recovered the third bomb after the police chief ordered a sweep.

Brig-Gen Sutanto said that immediately after the explosion, local government and military authorities summoned leading religious leaders for an emergency meeting. “We told them that they had to be calm and urge restraint among their followers,” he said. “We fear that if we don’t put a lid on the matter now, it could escalate.”

Analysts believe that Medan has all the ingredients that could trigger another round of violent conflict. The third largest city in Indonesia is a mix of Sumatran ethnic groups, Javanese, Chinese, Indians and Arabs together with separate religious identities.

In 1994, Medan was rattled by the country’s worst urban violence. Four years later, there was rioting in the city following student clashes with the police.

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