A young man with a sword attacked a Roman Catholic Church in Indonesia on Sunday, wounding four and decapitating statues of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary during the attack.
Police said they could not identify the attacker’s motives, even though churches are a common target for Islamic militants in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Especially in West Java, radical Islam undermines the culture of religious toleration that exists in many parts of Indonesia. The attacker targeted St. Lidwina Church in Sleman, Yogyakarta, on the island of Java.
Local police detective Fendi Timur told the Associated Press (AP) that counterterrorism police would be involved in the investigation, suggesting that the event is considered a form of terrorism.
A German priest, 81-year-old Karl Edmund Prier, who moved to Indonesia years ago, was among those injured in the attack. Video showed people in the church throwing books at the man as he lunged toward them with the sword. Victims suffered back, neck, and head wounds but all survived their injuries.
Police shot the 22-year-old suspect, identified only as Suliyono. He too survived, however, and is recovering in the hospital.
Yos Bintoro, a priest from St. Lidwina Church, condemned the assault but urged people not to overreact online. “We oppose any movement that denies the diversity and the unity of our nation,” he told the AP.
International Christian organization Open Doors has ranked Indonesia the 38th worst country for Christian persecution in the world, largely due to radical Islamic terror attacks and blasphemy laws.
Indonesia is well-known for fostering a climate of religious toleration, where Muslims and Christians live side-by-side. Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute‘s Center for Religious Freedom, laid out this “Islam of the Islands,” but he also insisted that Aceh, West Java, the Banten, and South Sulawesi have Islamic communities influenced by radical Islam and are where “90 percent” of the country’s civil strife occurs.
This church lies outside those areas, but is not too far from West Java.
It is extremely likely that Suliyono was motivated by Islamist ideology. His striking off the heads of statues of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary suggests a religious motive.
Muslims consider Jesus to be a prophet, and many of them celebrate Christmas. However, they vehemently deny the Christian doctrine that Jesus died from a Roman crucifixion and rose from the dead on the third day. The statue of Jesus in the Roman Catholic church not only had the stigmata — the wounds from the cross — but it also showed the “sacred heart” of Jesus, pierced for the sins of the world and reminiscent of the Roman centurion piercing Jesus’ side to prove that he was truly dead.
Perhaps the “sacred heart” was too much for this attacker. Furthermore, Islam teaches that Allah is one, and has no son. Perhaps the attack on Jesus, considered by Christians to be God incarnate and the second person of the Trinity, suggests an Islamist motivation.
More details are forthcoming, but no one should be surprised if this attacker ends up being a radical Islamist. This should not cast a pall over all Muslims — especially in Indonesia, where so many are indeed peaceful — but it should serve as a reminder that radical Islamist terror is a threat worldwide.