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Suicide bomb targets Mass in Indonesia, 20 wounded

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A police officer stands guard near a church where an explosion went off in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, Sunday, March 28, 2021.
A police officer stands guard near a church where an explosion went off in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, Sunday, March 28, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Yusuf Wahil
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Two attackers blew themselves up outside a packed Roman Catholic cathedral on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island during a Palm Sunday Mass, wounding at least 20 people, police said.

A cellular video obtained by The Associated Press showed body parts scattered near a burning motorbike at the gates of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province.

The attack came as Indonesia was on high alert following the arrest of Aris Sumarsono, known as Zulkarnaen, the leader of Islamist extremist group Jemmaah Islamiyah in December.

Wilhelmus Tulak, a Catholic priest who led the Mass when the bomb exploded at about 10.30 am, told reporters that a loud bang shocked his congregation who had just finished the Sunday service marking the beginning of the Holy Week before Easter.

The first batch of churchgoers was walking out of the church and another group was coming in when the blast happened, he said.

He said that security guards suspected two motorists who wanted to enter the church. One of them detonated his explosives and died near the gate after being confronted by guards. The wounded included four guards and several churchgoers.

Police later said both attackers were killed instantly and evidence collected at the scene indicated one of the two was a woman.

President Joko Widodo condemned Sunday’s attack and said it has nothing to do with any religion as all religions would not tolerate any kind of terrorism.

"I call on people to remain calm while worshipping because the state guarantees you can worship without fear," Widodo said in a televised address.

At least 20 people were wounded in the attack and had been admitted to hospitals for treatment, said Mohammad Mahfud, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.

“The perpetrators or terrorist groups behind this attack will continue to be pursued,” Mahfud said.

Indonesia's National Police spokesperson Argo Yuwono said police were still trying to identify the two attackers on the motorbike and whether they were linked to a local affiliate of the banned Jemaah Islamiyah network or were acting independently.

About 64 suspects had been detained by Indonesia's counterterrorism squad, known as Densus 88, in several provinces, including 19 last month in Makassar. The arrests followed a tipoff about possible attacks against police and places of worship.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, has been battling militants since bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. Attacks aimed at foreigners have been largely replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, police and anti-terrorism forces and people militants consider as infidels.

A court banned Jemaah Islamiyah in 2008, and the group was weakened by a sustained crackdown. A new threat has emerged in recent years inspired by the Islamic State group's attacks abroad.

The country’s last major attack was in May 2018, when two families carried out suicide bombings in the second-largest city of Surabaya, killing a dozen people including two young girls whose parents had involved them in one of the attacks. Police said the father was the leader of a local affiliate of the Islamic State group known as Jemaah Anshorut Daulah.