06/03/2021, 13.39
INDONESIA
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Papua: Merauke archbishop escapes two Islamist attacks

by Mathias Hariyadi

Archbishop Mandagi said that he was the intended victim in two attempts this year. The police arrested 11 people, most likely linked to the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah terrorist network. Last Sunday, they had planned to set off bombs at the local cathedral, like the Palm Sunday attack in Makassar.

Merauke (AsiaNews) – Two terror attacks were planned against Archbishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Merauke (Papua Province) this year but he was able to escape both.

Police have arrested 11 people in connection with the terrorist groups that planned the attacks.

The prelate himself spoke about the incidents in a letter sent to Indonesian Cardinal Ignazio Suharyo.

The first attempt took place on 1 January 2021, “the day I arrived in Merauke to begin my term as archbishop, after my service as bishop in the Diocese of Amboina”, the 72-year-old Mandagi told AsiaNews.

“A suspected terrorist wandered into the bishop's residence. He was even warmly welcomed by Father John Kandam, the secretary of the archdiocese, since he had asked about a potential house for rent,” the archbishop said.

“He had brought with him some well-packed explosive material in his backpack. But by pure coincidence I was not around, because I had been asked to go to Buti, where the first missionary priest had arrived in Merauke district.”

On Tuesday, Merauke police chief Untung Sangaji confirmed Mandagi's version. Citing Fr Kandam, Sangaji said that a potential terrorist disguised as a “guest” was looking for the archbishop, saying that he was from the Diocese of Manado, in the North Sulawesi province.

“He carried a bomb ready to explode, but once he realised that the archbishop was not there, he cancelled his plan.”

Archbishop Mandagi, who now heads the Indonesian Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is originally from Manado province.

The second attack against the prelate was supposed to take place last Sunday, during Mass in the cathedral of the Diocese of Merauke.

“The plan was to detonate explosives in the cathedral, but again luckily I wasn't around. I was still in Kepi, Mappin district, celebrating some confirmations,” Archbishop Mandagi explained.

Police arrested 11 people in two raids. Last Friday, Densus 88, the counter-terrorism squad of Indonesia’s National Police, and local police in Merauke captured 10 suspects most likely affiliated with terrorist groups linked to the self-styled Islamic State (IS) group.

“The 10 people [arrested] are linked to the Ansharut Daulah network, which has connections to IS,” said Inspector General Argo Yuwono, head of the public relations division at the National Police headquarters.

Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) is the terrorist group that planned the recent attack on Makassar Cathedral during Palm Sunday celebrations.

On Sunday, the counter-terrorism squad also arrested the last suspect, who also appear to be linked to JAD’s network in Kurik, Papua Province.

The capture of these 11 potential terrorists is part of a series of arrests in South Sulawesi. “We seized several pieces of evidence, including air rifles, cutting weapons and arrows,” Yuwono said.

During the search of the suspects' homes, police also recovered liquids and other chemicals, which will be thoroughly examined to determine their exact nature.

Yumono added that terror suspects had originally planned suicide bombings against churches, the police district station and the traffic police office in Merauke.

Sparking a new wave of violence in Indonesia appears to be the purpose of these actions, following the Palm Sunday bombing last March.

“These attempted attacks were meant to spark a new wave of violence in Merauke district like in other territories of Papua, for example in mountainous areas and in the area of the Diocese of Timika,” Merauke police chief said.

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