Four masked men with machine guns and riding on two Yamaha motorcycles reportedly burst in to the Efatah Church in Palu, capital of the Central Sulawesi region in Indonesia, leaving at least two dead and nine wounded. The attack took place on Sunday, July 18 during the church's 6 p.m. service.
According to UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Reverend Susianty Tinulele, 26, was shot dead in the pulpit as one of the masked men shot him from the front door, while two others started shooting at the congregation. Desrianti Tengkede, 17, was shot through her right eye and died later in hospital.
A total of 11 members of the congregation were shot, four of whom were seriously wounded. Some sources suggest that the four men, possibly from Laskar Mujahadeen (Warrior Defenders of the Faith) or another militant group, are the same men who were responsible for the assassination of Freddy Silalahi in May. Silalahi was one of the state prosecutors overseeing the trial of five members of Jemaah Islamiyah (a radical Islamist movement).
This attack is the latest in a worrying new trend where militants are targeting Christian leaders and churches. Another Christian, Helmy Tombiling, 35, was stabbed to death in front of her house in Poso city, Sulawesi, on July 17, according to the Crisis Centre of North Sulawesi. Again the assailants were two masked men on a motorcycle with a Palu licence plate.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those who have been so brutally murdered," commented Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW. "It is vital the Indonesian authorities pursue a proper investigation into these and other recent attacks to ensure those responsible are brought to justice. If this is left undone, it will only encourage more violence and further endanger the fragile peace in Central Sulawesi.”
The International Crisis Group (ICG) published a report in February 2004 detailing the extensive involvement of Jemaah Islamiyah and other militant groups in the region. The report also notes that systematic one-sided violence against overwhelmingly non-Muslim victims is continuing.
CSW visited the region in June and found "genuine support and the wish for reconciliation at grassroots level." However, the situation remains tense and both communities were concerned about the presidential elections and the upcoming local Bupati (head of local administration) elections.
According to CSWLittle or no action has been taken to bring the perpetrators to justice. "Often details and the whereabouts of these so-called unknown assailants are in fact known and in many instances there is also sufficient evidence for their arrest. What appears to be lacking is the political will, particularly at the regional level, to follow through with prosecutions," CSW reported.
Efatah Church is part of the GKST (Presbyterian Christian Church of Central Sulawesi), the denomination of Reverend Rinaldy Damanik. He is the head of the Crisis Center of Central Sulawesi and was arrested in August 2002 on trumped up arms charges. It is believed he was arrested in a bid to stop him speaking out on human rights abuses in Central Sulawesi. He was sentenced to three years in prison in June last year. Rev Tinulele had visited Rev Damanik in prison on the Friday before the attack.