- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 1, 2006

PALU, Indonesia — Suspected Muslim terrorists set off a powerful bomb packed with nails yesterday at a busy market frequented by Christians, killing eight persons and wounding 45 as they bought pork for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The blast occurred in Palu on Sulawesi Island, which has been plagued in recent years by religious violence and terrorism by Islamic extremists.

The early-morning explosion sent ball bearings and nails tearing into vendors and shoppers, leaving the market scattered with dismembered bodies. Police and passers-by carried bloodied bodies to cars. One man, apparently unhurt, held his head in his hands as he screamed.

“There was a billow of smoke and then a massive bang, and my ears were deafened,” said Kartini, a 32-year-old Christian woman who was hospitalized with shrapnel wounds to her chest and feet.

“I was in shock and had to tell myself to move away. I screamed for help,” said Kartini, who like many Indonesians uses a single name.

Police said eight persons died in the attack. Hospital officials said at least 45 were wounded, with more than 20 suffering serious injuries.

The religious affiliations of the dead were not immediately released. However, the market sold only pig and dog meat, both of which are forbidden under Islam. Few, if any, Muslims would have been in the covered market.

The country’s security minister, Widodo Adisucipto, told reporters the bombing was linked to terrorist groups. He refused to elaborate, but suspicion immediately fell on Jemaah Islamiyah, an al Qaeda-linked group that has been blamed for a series of bloody bombings in Indonesia since 2000, including two attacks on Bali that together killed 222 persons, many of them foreigners.

Jemaah Islamiyah is also accused in Christmas Eve church bombings five years ago that left 19 dead.

Officials had warned repeatedly that militants in Jemaah Islamiyah might stage Christmas and New Year’s attacks in Indonesia, the world’s most-populous Muslim nation. The group wants to establish an Islamic state spanning Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the southern Philippines.

The police chief for Central Sulawesi province, Brig. Gen. Oegroseno, said late yesterday that investigators believed a local resident detained two hours after the attack “may be declared as a suspect.” He refused to release any other information about that person.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the blast, which occurred despite heightened security nationwide. More than 47,000 soldiers and policemen have been deployed at churches, shopping centers and hotels to try to ward off terrorist attacks during Christmas and New Year’s.

Palu is about 1,000 miles northeast of Jakarta, the national capital. Sulawesi Island’s 12.5 million residents are split mainly between Christians and Muslims, but there are tiny Buddhist and Hindu communities.

Central Sulawesi was the scene of fierce battles between Muslims and Christians in 2001 and 2002 that killed about 1,000 people and attracted Islamic militants from all over Indonesia, who were responding to calls for a holy war.

Despite a peace deal, Islamic militants have continued a campaign of attacks on Christians, including market blasts in May that killed 20 persons and the beheadings of three Christian schoolgirls in October. No one has been charged in those attacks.

“When will the authorities be able to reveal the barbaric perpetrators in the province?” asked Rinaldy Damanik, leader of the Synod Churches of Central Sulawesi. “There is no happy new year in our republic this time around.”

Ken Conboy, author of several books on Southeast Asian terrorism, said Islamic militants almost certainly were behind the bombing, “but it is too soon to say from which group they came from, or who inspired them.”

“It’s likely they were involved in the earlier conflict and still possess the skills to make bombs,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Firman Gani, the police chief in Jakarta, said last week that members of Jemaah Islamiyah might use the holidays to retaliate for the November death of bomb-making expert Azahari bin Husin, who was fatally shot in a police raid.

On Christmas Eve, bomb squads searched for explosives at churches in Jakarta and its satellite cities, where thousands gathered for Christian services. Security forces also tightly guarded dozens of churches on Sulawesi.



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