JAKARTA, Indonesia – Two bombs exploded Saturday at a busy market in central Indonesia, killing at least 22 people and wounding 40 others in a volatile area marred by years of inter-religious fighting, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said.
The blasts occurred in the morning at a market in Sulawesi island’s Christian-dominated town of Tentena, said Police Maj. Riky Naldo, the deputy chief of police in nearby Poso town. More than 90 percent of Indonesia’s 210 million people are Muslims.
Two policemen were among the wounded, Naldo said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said he believed the explosion was carried out by terrorists instead of the local rival groups of Muslim and Christian.
“Latest report said 22 people were killed,” Kalla told a news conference at his hometown in the provincial capital of South Sulawesi, Makassar.
“It was carried out by the terrorists instead of warring Muslim and Christian faction. The motive of the perpetrators is to disturb the security situation in Poso,” Kalla said. “The perpetrators are same as those who created violence in Ambon and Poso.”
Witnesses said there was a small explosion, followed about 15 minutes later by a much larger one. The bigger blast flattened the market that sold fruit, vegetables and meat, and was near a police station.
“We still have no idea on the motive of the explosion, but clearly these bombs were aimed at disturbing the security situation in this region,” said Brig. Gen. Aryanto Sutadi, chief of the Central Sulawesi Police.
No one has been arrested over the explosions.
Police later discovered an unexploded bomb outside a nearby church, said Poso district chief Andi Asikin Suyuti. He said a Christian clergyman and a three-year boy were among the dead.
Tentena is about 60 kilometers (35 miles) from Poso, where fighting between Muslims and Christians claimed at least 1,000 lives in 2000-2002.
Those clashes were an offshoot of a larger Muslim-Christian conflict in the nearby Maluku archipelago, fomented by Laskar Jihad, a militia from Indonesia’s main island of Java. The gang was reportedly supported by hardline army elements trying to destabilize the reformist administrations that took office after the fall of longtime military dictator Gen.
Large-scale clashes have since died down, but over the past year the island has seen an increase in bombings and attacks on individuals.
In January, police found 60 homemade bombs in an abandoned house in Poso.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation, but central Sulawesi has roughly equal Muslim and Christian populations.
Tentena is about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) northeast of the capital, Jakarta.
Saturday’s blasts came just two days after warnings of unspecified attacks that prompted the United States to close its embassy and other diplomatic offices in Indonesia until further notice.
Police said they did not know of any specific threats against Americans, but that they have intelligence indicating that Malaysian terror suspects Azahari bin Husin and Noordin Mohamed Top might be planning more attacks. Their targets are typically Western-related.
National police spokesman Maj. Gen. Anang Budihardjo, said he could not rule out the possibility that Azahari had played a role in the latest Poso bombing.
“I cannot say (the bombs) were the work of Azahari’s group, but because he has been a fugitive for long, it is possible that he has recruited new members in the region,” the spokesman said Saturday.
The two Malaysians are believed to have masterminded the attacks on the Sept. 9, 2004 attack at the Australian Embassy that killed 10 people and the Aug. 5, 2003 Marriott hotel bombing that killed 12. Both blasts were in Jakarta.