Indonesia (MNN) – Over the last few years, the threat of extremism has been growing rapidly in Indonesia. And on Sunday and Monday, the situation boiled over in a series of attacks.
On Sunday, a family of six attacked three separate churches in Surabaya. Altogether, 12 people were killed plus the entire family of bombers. More than 40 people were injured as well.
These bombings were followed by another apparent attempt at suicide bombing by a mother and daughter pair. They were killed when the bomb went off prematurely in a suburb of Surabaya. Police later found the husband at home with the detonator. He was killed as well.
And then yesterday, a family of five rode their two motorbikes to bomb a police station, again in Surabaya. This time, ten people were injured and all but the eight-year-old daughter of the family were killed.
The police suspect the Indonesian militant group, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), to be behind these attacks in response to the imprisonment of their leaders. JAD has pledged their allegiance to ISIS.
A country struggling against terrorism
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world. And Surabaya is the nation’s second-largest city.
David Curry of Open Doors USA says that this nation is struggling to preserve its commitment to diversity while putting an end to extremist activity. According to the Open Doors World Watch List, on which Indonesia is ranked 38, the situation for Christians is getting worse as time goes on. The persecution comes from political, religious, and cultural sources. And often, these three things overlap. Even so, this is not the image the country wants to present to the rest of the world.
Curry says, “This attack goes to the heart of what Indonesia believes themselves to be about. They see themselves as a pluralistic culture that welcomes minorities. But ISIS and Al Qaeda and some of these groups—they’ve been trying to undermine many of the Muslim groups there in Indonesia.
“They’ve had attacks before, nothing of this kind. It’s very unusual both because of who perpetrated it but also because of its coordinated attack on these three churches.”
These suicide bombings were particularly alarming because of their use of children in the family setting. Additionally, this is the first time a suicide bombing by a woman has been successful in Indonesia.
Referring to the church bombings, Curry says, “They divided up and attacked these three churches in Surabaya. One of them with a car bomb, another—the two boys had suicide vests on as they rode motorcycles. The mother walked into another church, blew herself up.”
This mother was accompanied by her two young daughters, as well. The father attacked the second church by himself, and their two teenaged boys targeted the third congregation.
“You have a very unusual circumstance. But what is common in this attack that is common in other attacks is the radical nature of their theology. This idea that ISIS has perpetrated that so few people talk about; their stated purpose is to attack Christians, to push Christianity out, and to start these caliphates in these various regions.”
So, are these attacks a new normal for Indonesia? And will the use of children and women be on the rise? It’s a good question, especially as Indonesians who left to join ISIS have now returned home, following the defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
Another good question is this: How is the Church responding in Indonesia?
“The Church body there Indonesia is shocked, as you might imagine. Open Doors was on the scene just hours after the attack, talking to folks. We provide training for pastors all over the world that we call “Standing Strong through the Storm” which is to prepare pastors for this kind of persecution. And one of the pastors involved had gone through that training, so he knows what to do to build the community.”
Even though there are protocols in place for how to deal with the aftermath of this type of tragedy, Curry says we need to be praying for these believers. He explains that 11 percent of the people in Surabaya are Christians, mostly of Chinese descent. We can pray for their strength to stand up in their faith even when they might feel compelled to hide.
Pray for the families who are affected by these bombings. Pray for the churches, and the community. Ask God to use this tragedy to show Indonesia how Christians care for one another, and their neighbors.
In a broader context of the Persecuted Church, Curry says, “I think we have to remain open. We have to remain, you know, salt and light in our various communities. But we have to understand that there are people who want to attack churches and undermine the good that’s going on in these communities.”
With this in mind, he says churches need to be praying and seeking wisdom so that in places where violence reigns, churches can remain a place of refuge.
In addition to the JAD’s involvement in these attacks, Curry says it is possible that there was an element of influence stemming from the fact that the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins tomorrow.
“A lot of people who are radicalized will use it to attack churches, attack [Christians]. So we need to be thoughtful about that. This time of year does get to be very tense for Christians in these regions where persecution is very high.”