x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Suicide bomber dies in attack on Java church

Blast at church crowded with hundreds of worshippers kills bomber and wounds 20 others.

JAKARTA // A suicide bomber attacked an Indonesian church packed with hundreds of worshippers yesterday, killing himself and wounding at least 20 other people, police and hospital officials said.

The blast in Solo town in Central Java province occurred just as people were filing out at the end of the service.

"Everyone was screaming," a witness told Metro TV. "I saw fiery sparks and, near the entrance, a man dead on the ground. People around him were splattered with blood," said Fani, who goes by only one name, like many Indonesians.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the bombing.

Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation of 237 million, has been hit by a string of suicide bombings blamed on the Al Qaeda-linked network Jemaah Islamiyah and its offshoots since 2002, when a strike on two Bali nightclubs killed 202 people, most of them tourists.

Subsequent attacks have been far less deadly, however, and the last occurred more than two years ago, owing to a security crackdown that led to the arrests and convictions of hundreds of Islamist militants.

Bombings by solo "jihadis" have continued, however, often targeting Christians, security officers and members of Islamic sects deemed "blasphemous" by hardliners.

A police spokesman, Colonel Djihartono, said: "This is clearly a suicide bombing," adding that the explosive appeared to have been strapped to the bomber's stomach.

It was packed with nails, nuts and bolts, which were found scattered around his body.

Around 20 other people were wounded, one critically, said Bambang Sumarsono, a hospital official.

Witnesses said they believed the perpetrator was not a church member. "He walked about four metres [yards] behind me," Abraham, who attended the service, told El Shinta radio. "I believe he was disguised as a churchgoer."

Indonesia is a secular nation with a long history of religious tolerance, but an extremist fringe has become more vocal and violent in recent years.

Critics said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who relies heavily on Islamic parties in parliament, has remained silent as minorities have been attacked by hardliners or seen their houses of worship torched or boarded up.