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ICC Note: UCA News interviews Delphine Alles, a researcher on Indonesia on the latest terrorist attacks against Indonesian churches that took place in the last months. Alles stated that Christian minority is becoming once again a prime target for terrorist groups ready to go into action. Indonesia’s religious pluralism is at stake.

06/08/2018 Indonesia (UCA News) – Indonesia was hit by a series of suicide attacks against three churches and the central police station in Surabaya, the country’s second-largest city on May 13-14.

In this interview conducted by Marianne Dardard from Eglises d’Asie, Indonesia specialist Delphine Alles, a researcher in Jakarta for the Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia (IRASEC) and a lecturer in political science at the Universite Paris-est Creteil, explains the situation facing the nation’s Christian minority.

Dardard: The Surabaya attacks are the deadliest (27 deaths, including 13 terrorists) since the 2002 attacks in Bali (202 dead), which were the bloodiest in the country’s history. What’s new about the Surabaya attacks?

Delphine Alles : The mode of family action is what has caused the greatest astonishment. It’s the first time that parents have perpetrated suicide attacks with their children in Indonesia. The other dimension that needs to be pointed out is the level of coordination and [technical prowess] of these attacks, which far exceeds that of the Bali and Jakarta attacks in the early 2000s.

According to the police, at least two of the three “kamikaze” families belonged to the same Koranic study group, and the authorities found 54 operational explosive ordinances in the home of the perpetrators of the attack against the headquarters of the Surabaya police.

Dardard: In February an individual armed with a sword wounded many people inside a church in Yogyakarta in the center of the archipelago. Before that he had reportedly tried to team up with jihadists. Should we be worried by the increasing number of attacks against churches and Christians, who represent 9 percent of the Indonesian population?

Delphine Alles: To this day it has not been possible to establish a link between the events in Surabaya and the Yogyakarta attack, which has been considered an isolated attack in the absence of any claim of responsibility. On the other hand, the attacks against churches — which hark back to a mode of action that was frequent in the early 2000s — come at a time of intensified internal divisions in Indonesia.

This could be observed in late 2017, with the accusations of blasphemy levelled against the former governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is of Chinese and Christian origin, by groups like the Islamic Defenders Front. This stigmatization is not representative of the entire Indonesian society but comes at a time when the Christian minority is becoming once again a prime target for groups ready to go into action.

This is one of the objectives of the pro-Islamic State group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), to which many of the Surabaya terrorists belonged. JAD has called on Indonesians to attack what it calls ‘internal miscreants’: religious minorities, but also state representatives, especially the police forces involved in the fight against terrorism.

There is perhaps also an operational reason. Churches are softer targets than places frequented by foreigners, such as embassies, hotels and shopping malls, since they have no security systems. During peak periods such as Christmas or Easter, some are guarded by the militias of Muslim organizations, which lend their services to show their attachment to pluralism, but this was not the case on May 13.

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