Authorities say ISIS-linked family conducted suicide bombings at Indonesian churches

K9 police examine the scene following attacks outside the Surabaya Pentecostal Church (GPPS) in Surabaya, East Java, on May 13. A series of blasts struck three churches in Indonesia on Sunday, killing at least 13 people and wounding dozens in the deadliest attack in years in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country. (AFP/Juni Kriswanto)

Long War Journal, by Thomas Joscelyn, May 13, 2018:

A family of Islamic State supporters carried out suicide bombings at three churches in the Indonesian city of Surabaya earlier today, according to authorities. “We have identified the bombers. It is highly likely that they shared a familial background,” Indonesian police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian said, according to the The Jakarta Post.

According to Gen. Tito’s account of events, the father of the family “allegedly dropped off his wife and two daughters, aged 9 and 12,” at the Indonesia Christian Church. The mother reportedly blew herself up in the company of her children. The father set off to bomb the Surabaya Center Pentecostal Church, driving his minivan at the building. Meanwhile, two of the couple’s sons attacked the Saint Mary Immaculate Catholic Church.

The Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility for the bombings, but did not identify the terrorists in its first statements. “Three martyrdom attacks result in at least 11 Christians and church security guards being killed and 41 being injured in the city of Surabaya located in the region of East Java in Indonesia,” the group’s Amaq News Agency reported. Amaq’s casualty claim was generally consistent with independent reports. The number of people killed has reportedly risen to 13, while more than 40 were wounded.

The Islamic State then issued a longer claim as well, describing the perpetrators as “soldiers” of the so-called caliphate. The claim did not indicate any familial bond between the terrorists, nor did it provide the level of detail offered by the police.

“After putting their trust in Allah, several Khilafah soldiers set out towards three Crusader temples located in Surabaya city in East Java region in eastern Indonesia,” the Islamic State’s claim reads. “The first istishhadi targeted the Pentecostal Central Church with his explosive vehicle, while the second one detonated his explosive vest in the Santa Maria Catholic church. Meanwhile, the third attack targeted the Indonesian Christian Church with an explosive motorbike.” The self-declared caliphate describes the victims as “Crusaders.”

According to Tito, the family was associated with Jamaah Anshar Daulah (JAD), and some reports indicate that members of the family may have spent time in Syria.

The US State Department designated JAD as a terrorist organization in Jan. 2017. The US government noted at the time that JAD “is a terrorist group based in Indonesia that was formed in 2015 and is composed of almost two dozen Indonesian extremist groups that pledged allegiance to” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Foggy Bottom also noted that JAD provided the personnel for the Jan. 2016 attack in the capital of Jakarta. That plot was orchestrated by Bahrun Naim, an Islamic State cyber planner who has remotely directed a series of plots in Indonesia. [For more on Naim and JAD’s role in the Islamic State’s network, see FDD’s Long War Journal report: Indonesian authorities hunt Islamic State operative’s cyber recruits.]

The church bombings came just days after other Islamic State-affiliated militants orchestrated a prison riot in Depok, south of Jakarta.

The Islamic State and its predecessor organizations have long targeted churches in Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere.

The cover story (“The Ruling on the Belligerent Christians”) of the ninth edition of the group’s Rumiyah (“Rome”) magazine, released in May 2017, contained a lengthy defense of operations aimed at Christian civilians. The author concluded that “targeting these churches with ruin and destruction is a matter that is permitted in the Shari’ah, and it is allowed to use this as a means of attaining closeness to Allah.” That is, the jihadists argued that “martyrdom” attacks aimed at churches would allow the perpetrators to achieve divine glory. Rumiyah’s authors told readers that even the blood of Christian women and children is permissible. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Islamic State leader in Egypt says church bombings aren’t popular.]

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.