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World - Asia/Pacific

Mob torches Indonesian church after mosque bombing

April 20, 1999
Web posted at: 1:21 a.m. EDT (0521 GMT)

In this story:

Troops guard cathedral in Jakarta

Clashes have killed hundreds


UJUNG PADANG, Indonesia (CNN) -- A mob set fire to a church after a bomb blast hit the country's largest mosque, a local journalist reported on Tuesday.

The journalist said dozens of Indonesian police fired warning shots to disperse the mob, estimated at 1,000 people, and at least two people were wounded in this port city on southern Sulawesi island, about 1,400 km (870 miles) east of Jakarta.

"The mob attacked and burned down a Christian school complex, including a church late on Monday," the journalist told Reuters from Ujung Pandang.

Indonesian police and military officials were not immediately available for comment.

On Monday, a bomb exploded in Jakarta's Al-Istiqlal mosque, Indonesia's largest. It followed mounting religious violence in the predominantly Muslim country in recent months.

The most violent incidents have occurred in the eastern Moluccas islands, where around 300 people have died in fighting between Muslims and Christians this year.

Troops guard cathedral in Jakarta

In Jakarta, hundreds of troops guarded the Al-Istiqlal mosque, Southeast Asia's largest Muslim place of worship, after the bomb ripped through its basement Monday, injuring three men and damaging more than 20 offices.

President B.J. Habibie, who regularly prays at the mosque, called for calm, warning that the bombing could worsen the religious violence that has rocked the world's most populous Islamic country for months.

"This action could invite conflict between different religions," Habibie said. "People, particularly Muslims, must not be provoked by the bombing."

Fearing a backlash against Indonesia's Christian minority, scores of soldiers were also stationed around Jakarta's Roman Catholic Cathedral, which is near the mosque.

More than 600 people were praying in the mosque's main chamber several floors above when the bomb went off, witnesses said. Troops stationed nearby ran to the scene as hundreds of people fled. Windows were smashed, walls were scorched and pillars cracked.

The white-domed mosque is less than a half-mile from the presidential palace and is near a busy railroad station and Jakarta's National Monument. Thousands visit the mosque daily.

Clashes have killed hundreds

No group had claimed responsibility for the attack, police said.

Police said the bomb was planted outside the basement office of the Indonesian Ulemas Council. The council represents thousands of Islamic preachers and is one of the country's most important religious bodies.

Religious and ethnic tensions have boiled over during the 11 months since the resignation of President Suharto, who ruthlessly used the military to control unrest. The violence has been fueled by political uncertainty and Indonesia's worst economic crisis in 30 years.

More than 200 people have been killed in the worst fighting among Christians and Muslims in Maluku province in Indonesia's far east. Dozens of churches and mosques have been burned.

Hundreds more have also been killed in ethnic clashes in western Borneo. Bloodshed also worsened recently in predominantly Roman Catholic East Timor, where groups for or against independence from Indonesia have clashed.

Riots also erupted between Muslims and Christians in November in Jakarta, about a mile from the mosque. Last week, a small bomb damaged a shopping center in Jakarta's Chinatown district, not far from the mosque.

"This is an attempt to ruin religious harmony in Indonesia," Jakarta Police Maj. Gen. Nugroho Djayusman said of Monday's blast.

"It is my guess that someone wants to provoke violence among Muslims and Christians and among various ethnic groups," said Adang Syafaad, the mosque's chief manager.

About 90 percent of Indonesia's 210 million people are Muslim, making it the world's most populous Islamic nation.

The official Anatara news agency said three witnesses told police two men on motorcycles fled the scene immediately after the explosion.

The explosion happened as Indonesia prepares for June parliamentary elections, the first to be held since Suharto was forced to quit last year amid protests and riots against his 32-year rule.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Blast rocks Indonesian mosque
April 19, 1999
Death toll reaches 54 in Indonesia's riot-torn far east
April 5, 1999
More troops arrive to stem Borneo violence
March 23, 1999
Borneo riots marked by grisly ritual killings
March 21, 1999
Clashes flare in strife-torn northern Indonesia
March 20, 1999

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