01/02/2006, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Police interrogate suspect about Christian market blast

by Benteng Reges

The blast in Palu on 31 December killed seven people. Security measures have been stepped up across the province, which has seen an escalation of anti-Christian violence in recent months. Police have excluded involvement of the Islamic terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah.

Palu (AsiaNews) – Police in central Sulawesi are interrogating a man suspected of involvement in Saturday's attack on a Christian market in Palu. The city, the capital of the Indonesian province, is on a state of high alert: public security forces have set up checkpoints and yesterday undertook search operations in several neighbourhoods.

The security services had warned of possible violence during the Christmas and New Year festivities. Despite their warnings, a nail-studded bomb went off amid a crowd on 31 December at around 7.30am (local time), creating chaos among customers and sellers, who were mostly Christian. The toll of victims is of seven dead and 54 injured; many lost both legs in the powerful blast. Local police sources that if the explosion had gone off at peak-hour (8.30am), the outcome would have been even worse.

The man, arrested on Saturday in the whereabouts of the market, is 40 years. However there is no official information about his identity. The Jakarta police issued a statement saying that the Palu bomb had nothing to do with the hunted Islamic terrorist Noordin Top, held to be the most important Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leader. A high-ranking official said the materials used in the attack were not those usually used by JI; besides, he recalled that the terrorist group "usually targets foreign citizens".

Many circumstances seem to indicate that the attack was aimed specifically at the island's Christian community. The market targeted is usually frequented by Christians. Initial findings of the investigation have revealed that the bomb went off inside a kiosk which sold pork meat, prohibited by Islam because it is considered to be unclean. People were doing last-minute shopping to mark the end of the year. Further, the crudely-made bomb went off no more than 100m away from a Protestant Church.

According to the head of the central police, Chief Brigadier General Oegroseno, the intended target of the bomb was one of the churches in the area but high security levels forced the attackers to change their objective. The day before the attack, religious leaders of different faiths met in Donggala near Palu to renew their commitment to peaceful inter-faith coexistence.

The Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, himself condemned the market attack and ordered the immediate launching of an inquiry. He also called upon the Security Minister, Widodo Adisucipto, to ensure there were no "possible links to previous attacks" in the area.

Central Sulawesi was the battleground of bloody conflict between Christians and Muslims between 1998 and 2001. Thousands of people were killed. Although a peace agreement was signed in 2002, violence continues to hit the zone sporadically; in October, three Christian girls were beheaded near Poso.

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