Christmas bombing campaign hits Catholic churches across Indonesia

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The Independent Online

The Indonesian government warned yesterday that more bomb attacks could follow a series of blasts that killed at least 13 people outside churches across the country on Christmas Eve.

The Indonesian government warned yesterday that more bomb attacks could follow a series of blasts that killed at least 13 people outside churches across the country on Christmas Eve.

A total of 95 people were injured by 15 bombs, which exploded within minutes of each other as Midnight Mass prayer services were about to begin on Sunday night.

Most were left in cars outside churches, including the Roman Catholic cathedral in the capital, Jakarta. Clergymen received others at their homes, wrapped as gifts. One bomb went off in Mataram, on the tourist island of Lombok. Police defused another 13 devices at various locations.

General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the minister for security affairs, blamed "well-organised terrorists" for the attacks in nine towns and cities in the mainly Muslim nation. He said: "Information from police intelligence indicates that there could be similar bombings at other places of places of worship and other public facilities."

President Abdurrahman Wahid, who has been fending off demands for his resignation, condemned the blasts as an attempt to destabilise his government and thwart democratic reform by whipping up religious hatred and fear.

He called for calm amid concerns that Muslims might be targeted at the start of the Eid ul-Fitr feast tomorrow night, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"There is an effort to use the name of Islam to destroy Christians or to use the name of Christianity to destroy Muslims," he said, before leaving Jakarta for a visit to Irian Jaya province.

No one claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Laskar Jihad and the Islamic Defenders' Front, two Muslim paramilitary groups accused of past sectarian violence, denied involvement.

The police intelligence deputy inspector, General Sutiyono Ansyaad, said that two men had been arrested and declared suspects in relation to an alleged bomb factory in Bandung, in western Java. Another 48 people were being questioned around the country.

Many Christians - who make up less than 10 per cent of the population - stayed away from Christmas Day services yesterday. Services were held in half-empty churches. Worshippers had their bags searched by armed police.

Most of Indonesia's religious violence has taken place in the eastern Moluccan Islands, where about 5,000 people of both faiths have been killed over the past two years. But Muslim vigilante groups have mushroomed and have attacked nightclubs in Jakarta recently.

Five churches were targeted in the capital on Sunday, with three people killed by bombs that exploded within a one-mile radius.

Four police officers were killed as they tried to defuse a device in Pekanbaru, on Sumatra island. Bombs were reported at churches in Bekasi, Medan, Sukabumi, Mojokerto and Bandung, all on Java, as well as on Batam island and on Lombok. Eleven unexploded bombs were found on Sumatra.

Members of a Muslim student group handed a wreath to a church leader outside the cathedral yesterday. "We give these flowers to express our condolences," one said.

President Wahid has previously accused supporters of the former dictator, General Suharto, as well as military hardliners and Muslim extremists, of using terrorism to create political uncertainty.

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