Bombs Rock Indonesia Christmas Celebrations

Indonesia’s chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono warned today of the possibility of more bombings less than 24 hours after a series of blasts.

On Christmas Eve, bombs exploded outside churches in Jakarta and five other Indonesian cities and towns, killing at least 14 people, injuring dozens and worsening the already difficult relations between Muslims and Christians throughout the fractured archipelago.

The blasts, including one outside Jakarta’s main Roman Catholic church near the presidential palace and the main mosque, happened as prayer services were about to get under way Sunday evening local time. The explosions set cars ablaze and damaged some churches.

“Information from police intelligence indicates that there could be similar bombings at other places of worship and at other public facilities,” Yudhoyono told reporters.

He said the blasts were an act of terrorism, designed to stir religious tensions.

Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid said the bombs in Jakarta and other cities were an attempt to destabilize his already troubled government.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility, but religious violence and tensions have been rising throughout this predominantly Muslim country. Although most of the violence has taken place in the Moluccan islands, Muslim vigilante groups have recently attacked restaurants and nightclubs in Jakarta, the capital.

Acts of Violence Target Christians

Wahid, who is a Muslim scholar, has advocated religious tolerance, but Sunday’s attacks add to a long list of crises and acts of violence that have worsened during his 14-month rule.

Five Catholic and Protestant churches were targeted in Jakarta, where three people were killed. The Jakarta bombs exploded within an hour and a radius of about a mile.

The bomb that exploded near the Roman Catholic Cathedral, thought to have been planted in a parked car, left worshippers shaken.

“I was in the cathedral with my wife and two children. I heard the explosion. I am very worried that there will be religious fighting everywhere,” said Winarno, who goes by only one name.

Unexploded Bombs Found

An unexploded bomb was also discovered near the cathedral, where hundreds of Christians were arriving ahead of midnight Mass as thousands of Muslims were leaving the nearby mosque at the end of Islamic evening prayers.

Other churches were evacuated after receiving threats.

“This is clearly the work of people who are determined to make trouble and to bring about clashes among people,” Jakarta police spokesman Superintendent Anton Bahrulalam said. “We will be on full alert when people come to pray on Christmas Day.”

There were four explosions outside one church in the exclusive Jakarta suburb of Menteng, police said.

In east Jakarta, a man was killed in an explosion at a bus stop outside a church and an adjacent Christian school, Supono said.

Four of the dead on Sunday were police officers who tried to disarm a bomb in Pekanbaru on Sumatra island, the official Antara news agency said. One civilian was also killed there.

Antara reported blasts outside of churches in Medan on Sumatra island. Police there later found nine unexploded bombs.

Two people were killed in a blast at a Christian-owned house in Bandung west Java, Indonesia’s main island, police said.

Ramadan and Christmas Overlap

On Batam island, not far from neighboring Singapore, three blasts injured 22 people, it said. Explosions rocked three churches in the town of Mojokerto in the east Java. Bombs also went off near three churches in Mataram on the tourist island of Lombok.

The Christmas celebrations coincide with the final days of Ramadan, Islam’s month of fasting, which ends Tuesday.

Sunday’s attacks follow a rise in Muslim extremism throughout the country.

The heaviest violence has been in the Moluccan or Maluku islands in Indonesia’s east, where an estimated 5,000 people of both faiths have been killed over the past two years.

Christians make up less than 5 percent of Indonesia’s 210 million people. Many are from the ethnic Chinese minority, which has been targeted by Muslim groups during past civil unrest.

Sunday’s bombings were the latest in a series to rock the capital. The worst this year came in September, when a car bomb and subsequent fire killed 15 people in a basement parking lot at Jakarta’s Stock Exchange. In August, two people were killed when a car bomb blew up outside the Philippine ambassador’s home.

Authorities made arrests after those attacks and several smaller explosions, but have filed no formal charges. Most of the suspects have been released.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.