Indonesian Churches Targeted In Suicide Bombings


On May 13th, 2018, the Indonesian city of Surabaya suffered a string of suicide bombings which targeted three churches. ABC News reports that at least 11 people were killed, while CNN News has stated that a further 41 have been hospitalized with injuries. Both figures are expected to grow.

According to Al Jazeera, communications director of Indonesia’s intelligence agency, Wawan Purwanto, stated to Metro TV that the perpetrators were suspected to be the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an Islamic fundamentalist group inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Purwanto also noted that the bombings were likely linked to a prison hostage incident last week near Jakarta, in which six people, including police officials, were killed in a riot involving inmates affiliated with ISIL. Since its inception in 2015, JAD has been responsible for numerous attacks across Indonesia, including Central Jakarta and Samarinda, East Kalimantan. In 2016, Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) established JAD to be the ‘most dangerous terrorist organization in the country,’ owing to its global connections to ISIL as well as its presence in areas outside of Indonesia, including the fighting in Marawi, Philippines.

Along with the three churches that were striked, the Sydney Morning Herald has stated further that two bombs were found and defused at a Pentecostal church and another at a Protestant church. Al Jazeera’s Indonesian correspondent, Step Vaessen, has reported that “all churches in Surabaya have been ordered to evacuate.” Services have also been suspended temporarily.

While the bombings provoke the need for remembrance and respect, they also reinvigorate debates about how best to address Islamic radicalism and its devastating implications, namely – Islamophobia. Attention should be directed towards the organizations that orchestrate such assaults, not towards the general Muslim populations.

This notion was encapsulated by The Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), an Indonesian Islamic movement, which vehemently condemned the attacks. In a statement the organization proclaimed that “all kinds of violent actions, particularly those carried out in the name of religion by way of spreading terror … are not the character of Islam. There is no religion in the world that justifies violent actions.”

It is this sentiment that must be promulgated in the rhetoric that follows such measures. A distinction must be made between Islam and fundamentalists who merely adopt its name. The effects of this are beneficial twofold. Firstly, it highlights the intrinsic evil of the actions of suicide bombers and members of radical organizations, therefore undermining their objectives and movement. Secondly, such distinction would serve to unite a religiously diverse Indonesia. According to UN Data from 2015, Indonesia’s population is 87.18% Muslim compared to 9.86% Christian. In the wake of these assaults, it is of the utmost necessity that both populations unite in solidarity to deplore this kind of conflict, as opposed to generating tensions that would serve the interests of JAD.

Fundamentally, suicide bombings are inherently heinous. It is profoundly wrong that an individual’s entitlement to peace and safety can be violated in such a manner, especially within environments that promote and foster respect and compassion. Organizations responsible for these kinds of attacks should be held accountable. In seeking to achieve this, it is necessary that Indonesia’s diverse religious landscape unites to undermine the objective of dividing a society that radical movements seek to instigate.

Emily Forrester

Emily is studying a Bachelor of Arts at UNSW, majoring in Development Studies and International Relations.
Emily Forrester