J A K A R T A, Indonesia, Dec. 25, 2000 -- Indonesia’s chief securityminister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono warned today of thepossibility of more bombings less than 24 hours after a seriesof 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 Christiansthroughout the fractured archipelago.
The blasts, including one outside Jakarta’s main Roman Catholicchurch near the presidential palace and the main mosque, happenedas prayer services were about to get under way Sunday evening local time. Theexplosions set cars ablaze and damaged some churches.
“Information from police intelligence indicates that therecould be similar bombings at other places of worship and atother public facilities,” Yudhoyono told reporters.
He said the blasts were an act of terrorism, designed tostir religious tensions.
Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid said the bombs in Jakarta andother cities were an attempt to destabilize his already troubledgovernment.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility, but religiousviolence and tensions have been rising throughout thispredominantly Muslim country. Although most of the violence hastaken place in the Moluccan islands, Muslim vigilante groups haverecently attacked restaurants and nightclubs in Jakarta, thecapital.
Acts of Violence Target Christians
Wahid, who is a Muslim scholar, hasadvocated religious tolerance, but Sunday’s attacks add to a longlist of crises and acts of violence that have worsened during his14-month rule.
Five Catholic and Protestant churches were targeted in Jakarta,where three people were killed. The Jakarta bombs exploded withinan 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 worshippersshaken.
“I was in the cathedral with my wife and two children. I heardthe explosion. I am very worried that there will be religiousfighting everywhere,” said Winarno, who goes by only onename.
Unexploded Bombs Found
An unexploded bomb was also discovered near the cathedral, wherehundreds of Christians were arriving ahead of midnight Mass asthousands of Muslims were leaving the nearby mosque at the end ofIslamic evening prayers.
Other churches were evacuated after receiving threats.
“This is clearly the work of people who are determined to maketrouble and to bring about clashes among people,” Jakarta policespokesman Superintendent Anton Bahrulalam said. “We will be onfull alert when people come to pray on Christmas Day.”
There were four explosions outside one church in the exclusiveJakarta suburb of Menteng, police said.
In east Jakarta, a man was killed in an explosion at a bus stopoutside a church and an adjacent Christian school, Supono said.
Four of the dead on Sunday were police officers who tried to disarma bomb in Pekanbaru on Sumatra island, the official Antara newsagency said. One civilian was also killed there.
Antara reported blasts outside of churches in Medan on Sumatraisland. Police there later found nine unexploded bombs.
Two people were killed in a blast at a Christian-owned house inBandung west Java, Indonesia’s main island, police said.
Ramadan and Christmas Overlap
On Batam island, not far from neighboring Singapore, threeblasts injured 22 people, it said. Explosions rocked three churchesin the town of Mojokerto in the east Java. Bombs also went off nearthree churches in Mataram on the tourist island of Lombok.
The Christmas celebrations coincide with the final days ofRamadan, Islam’s month of fasting, which ends Tuesday.
Sunday’s attacks follow a rise in Muslim extremism throughoutthe country.
The heaviest violence has been in the Moluccan or Maluku islandsin Indonesia’s east, where an estimated 5,000 people of both faithshave been killed over the past two years.
Christians make up less than 5 percent of Indonesia’s 210million people. Many are from the ethnic Chinese minority, whichhas been targeted by Muslim groups during past civil unrest.
Sunday’s bombings were the latest in a series to rock thecapital. The worst this year came in September, when a car bomb andsubsequent fire killed 15 people in a basement parking lot atJakarta’s Stock Exchange. In August, two people were killed when acar bomb blew up outside the Philippine ambassador’s home.
Authorities made arrests after those attacks and several smallerexplosions, but have filed no formal charges. Most of the suspectshave been released.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.