An Indonesian policeman stands guard outside a church after an explosion in Makassar on March 28, 2021. (Photo by INDRA…
An Indonesian policeman stands guard outside a church after an explosion in Makassar, March 28, 2021.

Indonesian authorities have identified a recently married couple with ties to the Islamic State-linked Jamaah Ansarud Daulah (JAD) as the main suspects behind a suicide bombing Sunday that targeted a Catholic church in Makassar, the provincial capital of South Sulawesi. 

Referring to the couple by their initials only, Listyo Sigit Prabowo, chief of the Indonesian National Police, said suspects "L and YSF" — identified by Indonesian media as a man named Lukman and his wife, Dewi — had been married some six months prior by a JAD figure known as Rifaldi. 

Indonesians commonly have only one name by which they are addressed. 

According to Prabowo, Rifaldi was arrested in January and charged with involvement in the 2019 bombing of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo, Philippines, which left 20 people dead and dozens more injured. 

FILE - Philippine soldiers walk past the damaged area of a Catholic cathedral in Jolo town, Sulu province, in southern island of Mindanao, Jan. 28, 2019, a day after two explosions tore through the cathedral.

The police chief also said Lukman had left a written farewell message to his parents telling them he was "ready to be martyred." 

According to Indonesian officials, the suicide bombers approached the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on a motorbike but were intercepted at the gate by security guards. They used a pressure cooker with explosive materials to blow themselves up outside the packed church during its Palm Sunday Mass. 

Indonesian police remove a motorcycle that was used by bombers during a reconstruction of the explosion in Makassar, March 29, 2021.

The attack reportedly wounded at least 20 people. 

In a video interview with VOA's Indonesian Service, Yaqut Cholil Qaumas, the Indonesian minister of religion, described the action as "a heinous act that tarnished the tranquility of social life."

"We appeal to religious leaders to continue to improve the pattern of good religious teaching and emphasize the importance of being religious in moderation,” Qaumas said. "All religions teach their people to avoid acts of violence, since violence will only erode human values and certainly harm many parties." 

The world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia has for years suffered violent attacks inspired by the JAD and other active militant groups such as Islamic State (IS), Jemaah Islamiyah, and Laskar Jundullah Islamic Militia. 

Founded in 2015, JAD in 2017 was designated a terrorist organization by the United States for its connections to IS. Its leader, Aman Abdurrahman, was sentenced to death in June 2018 for masterminding terror attacks and helping set up a jihadi training camp in Aceh province. 

A member of the Indonesian anti-bomb unit collects evidence after a bomb exploded in Makassar, March 28, 2021.

Sunday's attack came just days after General Boy Rafli Amar, head of Indonesia's National Counter Terrorism Agency, told the country's lawmakers last week that radicalization numbers among Indonesians have decreased from 55.2% in 2017 to 14% in 2020. 

While the ability of radical groups to attack new followers decreased due to the coronavirus pandemic, Amar expressed the need to increase vigilance on the widespread radical understanding in cyberspace. 

Muhammad Syauqillah, a terrorism observer at the University of Indonesia, warned that violent extremist attacks are unlikely to disappear in the country as long as "takfiri” ideology continues to exist. The Arabic term has been widely used in the Muslim community to refer to smaller radical groups that accuse other Muslims of apostasy. 

Syauqillah said the timing of the attack nearly two weeks before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan comes as no surprise since Islamist extremists seek glorification before or during the month "because it is believed to be a symbol of victory."