Makassar and Medan, Indonesia – Indonesian National Police said a suicide bomber who attacked a church in the northeast of the country on Sunday was known to them.
Police said on Sunday that the suicide bomber, who attacked the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Makassar on the island of Sulawesi on Palm Sunday, had already been identified due to a previous arrest.
“The person concerned is part of a group of several perpetrators that we arrested some time ago. This group is part of or is linked to groups that have carried out operations in Jolo in the Philippines, ”National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo told a press conference.
“We have the author’s initials and we follow up. We do DNA testing to make sure we are scientifically responsible. “
Prabowo said the assailant and his wife, who had been married for seven months, were both dead blows outside the cathedral.
“We arrested about 20 people from Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD). They are part of [the group]. The data we have matches, ”he added.
In January 2021, 20 members of the extremist group JAD were arrested in Makassar on suspicion of planning attacks in Indonesia.
JAD is affiliated with the ISIL group (ISIS) and, in addition to the completion of two bombings in Jolo in the Philippines in 2019 which left 20 dead, the group also attacked three others Surabaya churches in Indonesia, killing 28 people including suicide bombers in 2018.
Asked at the press conference why the perpetrator of the attack on Makassar Cathedral was arrested and then released in January, Prabowo said: “We are still seeing if there is evidence, physical evidence. and other things, […] the investigation and the continuation of the investigation are of course considerations decided by the investigators. Of course, we continue to follow this topic. “
Al Jazeera has repeatedly contacted the National Police’s public affairs department to clarify whether the attacker was previously in custody and released, or simply affiliated with the group detained in January, but has not received a response.
Ian Wilson, a lecturer in politics and security studies at Murdoch University in the Australian city of Perth, told Al Jazeera that the possible earlier arrest of the attacker, or the arrests of other members of the JAD group , could give some insight into his motivation.
“It is possible that if the suicide bomber had ever been detained by the police and then released, this experience would have prompted him to carry out a hasty attack, especially with many of his fellow travelers already arrested. It could have been a declaration of solidarity or revenge, or as a desperate act performed under the assumption that he could soon join them in prison, ”he said.
“This would explain the poor organization, planning and execution of the attack which seems rushed and carried out without planning or logistical support. It is not known at this point what role his wife of only seven months may have played, if any, in the preparation for the attack. Fortunately, all of this conspired to limit the deaths to the two suicide bombers.
Police confirmed that a raw pressure cooker bomb, which had been filled with nails, was used in the Makassar attack. In addition to the perpetrators’ deaths, 19 others were injured and four are still in intensive care.
Yosi, 29, who works at the Pelangi Cafe near the explosion and has a name, told Al Jazeera he heard an explosion and immediately ran to the scene where a plume of smoke rose and loud smell filled the air.
“It smelled sour, I think from the bomb materials, but there was also a fishy smell, maybe because the smoke was mixed with someone’s blood,” he said.
Yosi said he saw body parts on the ground. Four people close to the scene were bleeding, including a middle-aged woman with a forehead injury, Yosi said. He helped her get on a passing motorbike so that she could be taken to hospital for treatment.
Compensation for victims
Ranto Sibarani, a Medan-based human rights lawyer, told Al Jazeera that the Indonesian government has a legal responsibility to compensate victims of the attack if the police released the suspect prematurely.
“After reviewing the national police statement at the press conference, we can assume that the author was one of 20 JAD members arrested in January,” he told Al Jazeera.
“It appears from the statement that he was released for lack of evidence. However, under Indonesian anti-terrorism laws, the police have the power to detain anyone while they investigate in order to protect the population from terrorist attacks. “
Indonesia’s anti-terrorism law was drafted in 2003, a year after the Bali bombing, which killed 202 people, and was revised in 2018 following the attacks on the church in Surabaya. It now allows authorities to detain suspects for up to 200 days during the investigation process, up from 60 days for other crimes.
“Cases like the Makassar attack pose a risk to the entire Indonesian population and we must be clear that we will not only stop the perpetrators of these atrocities, but also work on behalf of the victims,” Sibarani said.
“To deter suicide bombings, the government should compensate victims in cases like this which will serve a dual purpose. This will show that the government takes responsibility for ensuring the safety of people and will also put pressure on terrorists who will not want to commit these acts knowing that they enrich the “infidels” and their families.