Firefighters try to extinguish a blaze following a blast at the Pentecost Church Central Surabaya (GPPS), in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia on May 13, 2018.

© 2018 Antara Foto
(Jakarta) – Coordinated suicide bombings of three Christian churches and the police headquarters in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, on May 13-14, 2018, were repugnant acts of violence, Human Rights Watch said today. The attackers intentionally used their own children, who were between the ages of 9 and 18, to either carry and detonate explosives or to accompany their parents carrying out the attacks.

The bombings killed at least 12 people, plus 13 attackers and their children, and wounded at least 50 others. Three families linked to the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, an affiliate of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Indonesia, carried out the attacks. The Islamic State claimed responsibility, calling each of the bombings a “martyrdom” operation.

“The bombings of Christian churches show the grave risks Indonesia’s religious minorities face every day,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher. “The horror of these attacks was magnified by the attackers using their own children as suicide bombers.”

The horror of these attacks was magnified by the attackers using their own children as suicide bombers.

Andreas Harsono

Senior Indonesia Researcher

The first attack occurred on the morning of May 13, when the two sons of Puji Kuswati and her husband Dita Oepriarto, ages 16 and 18, rode a shared motorcycle into the compound of the Santa Maria Catholic Church and then detonated concealed explosives, killing two church-goers and injuring six. Shortly after that, Oepriarto detonated explosives that he had concealed in a van that he had driven into the compound of Surabaya’s Pentecostal Central Church, killing a security guard and a pedestrian. Minutes later, Kuswati entered Surabaya’s Indonesian Christian Church with her two daughters, ages 9 and 12. Witnesses say Kuswati detonated explosives concealed on her body, killing one security guard along with herself and her daughters.

The fourth suicide bombing attack occurred 12 hours later on May 14, when a family of five – two parents and three children – rode two motorcycles into the parking lot of the Surabaya police headquarters and detonated explosives concealed on their bodies and on the motorcycles. The blast killed the parents and two of their children and wounded six civilians and four policemen. The attackers’ 8-year-old daughter, who was riding on one of the two motorcycles, survived the blast.

Police reported that a separate explosion on May 13 in a family dwelling in Wonocolo, a suburb of Surabaya, was a “premature” blast by another family plotting an attack on a “undisclosed target” in the city. That blast killed three people – a couple and their eldest son, 17 – and seriously injured two of their three other children.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo immediately flew from Jakarta to Surabaya in the aftermath of the attacks, calling them “the act of cowards, undignified, and barbaric.” Indonesian National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian described the attacks as a reprisal for Indonesia’s prosecution and imprisonment of the Jemaah Ansharut Daulah leadership and said that all three families implicated in the blasts had been friends.

Many Christian churches immediately canceled their Sunday services on May 13. Police also increased security in almost all major churches in big cities such as Jakarta, Surabaya, and Medan. The church attacks were the largest since Christmas Eve 2000, when more than 30 churches in eight cities were bombed simultaneously.

Across Indonesia, religious minorities, including Shia and Ahmadiyah Muslims, several Christian groups, and local religions, have been targets of harassment, intimidation, threats, and increasingly, violence. The Setara Institute, which monitors religious freedom in Indonesia, has documented several hundred cases of violent attacks against religious minorities over the last decade.

The Indonesian authorities should ensure that available assistance goes to the victims of the church attacks and their families. They should also assist the surviving children used by the attackers and investigate the circumstances of their involvement to prevent future attacks. In addressing these incidents, as well as government deliberations over the pending counter-terrorism bill, the Indonesian authorities should fully respect Indonesia’s international human rights obligations.

“The incidents mark the first time in Indonesia that suicide bombers have used children in their attacks,” Harsono said. “Deploying children in such a way is indefensible and deplorable.”