Bomb blast at Christian market kills 7 in Indonesia

Bomb blast at chtistian market kills 7 in Indonesia Sat Dec 31, 2005
Reuters, By Paul

 Indonesia  - A bomb packed with nails exploded in a crowded Christian market selling pork ahead of New Year celebrations in eastern Indonesia on Saturday, killing seven people and wounding 53, police said.

The blast in Palu, capital of volatile Central Sulawesi province, came after warnings of militant violence during the Christmas and New Year season in Indonesia.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation. Pork is forbidden to Muslims, who account for some 85 percent of the people, but eastern Indonesia has large pockets of Christians.

Bystanders carried bloodied shoppers from the makeshift market to a road, putting them in passing cars to be taken to hospital. One man screamed as he held up his bloodied arms.

"Suddenly there was a flash of light and a really loud bang. We were all thrown to the ground," one wounded pork seller said in an interview with El Shinta radio from his hospital bed.

"I saw many buyers who had lost their legs. We just tried to save ourselves by fleeing the market."

Central Sulawesi police chief Brigadier General Oegroseno said by telephone from Palu: "Up until now, the number of victims is 60. From that 60, 53 are injured, seven have died."

He said police were tightening security, especially in places of worship, and had closed the town gates to prevent any more violence.

National police spokesman Major-General Paulus Purwoko said in Jakarta: "It was a homemade bomb. It was full of nails."

The official Antara news agency said another bomb was found and defused near the market in Palu, 1,650 km (1,030 miles) northeast of Jakarta.

Material like timers and cables were found in packages at two other sites in Indonesia on Saturday, but they did not include explosive materials, Purwoko said.

Central Sulawesi is a region plagued by religious violence and tension since the late 1990s. Fighting between Muslims and Christians from 1998-2001 killed 2,000 people, mainly around the Muslim town of Poso.

"This was done by outside perpetrators to create an unstable situation in Palu," Rusdi Masura, mayor of South Palu regency told Metro television.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the Palu blast and ordered an investigation, his spokesman said.

The explosion occurred not long after dawn when people were shopping. Slabs of pork were still sitting on wooden tables inside the small market, which local police said was only used ahead of special occasions.

RELIGIOUS VIOLENCE

While a peace accord halted the 1998-2001 bloodshed in Central Sulawesi, violence has erupted sporadically.

In one of the worst incidents, three teenage Christian girls were beheaded near Poso last October. Bomb attacks last May in the Central Sulawesi Christian town of Tentena killed 22 people.

Inter-communal violence has killed thousands in Indonesia since the downfall of longtime autocrat Suharto in 1998.

The sprawling nation of 220 million people has experienced several major bomb attacks on Western targets as well, mostly blamed on Jemaah Islamiah, a group seen as al Qaeda's Southeast Asian arm.

The deadliest attack killed 202 people, mostly tourists, on the resort island of Bali in October 2002.

National police spokesman Purwoko said the Palu blast was not typical of those planned by Jemaah Islamiah leader Noordin M. Top because of the material used and the choice of a target with no obvious foreign connections.

Malaysian-born Top is the major identified Jemaah Islamiah leader still thought to be at large in Indonesia.

Police have been warning for weeks of possible militant attacks during the Christmas and New Year period, and security has been stepped up throughout the country.

Several Western nations have urged citizens to avoid travel to Indonesia in the wake of fears foreigners could be shot on the streets or kidnapped.

Analysts said the Palu violence was not linked with fears of militant violence and was unlikely to spread beyond the district.

"The greater terrorist scare has been more focused on Java, and specifically on Jakarta. And this is something separate," Jakarta-based security expert Ken Conboy told Reuters.

"This was probably extremists because they targeted a part of a market that was selling pork, which would seem to indicate sectarian violence between the religions. Or an attempt at least to spark sectarian violence.

"In the past few years, although there have been a lot a provocations it doesn't seem to have much of a spillover effect, it seems to stay contained. It certainly doesn't go outside of Central Sulawesi."

Despite the Muslim dominance in Indonesia's population as a whole, in some eastern parts of the country Christian and Muslim numbers are about equal.

Most Indonesian Muslims are moderates, but there has been an increasingly active militant minority in recent years.

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