PALU, Indonesia, AP – Authorities searched Sunday for the suspected Islamic militants who set off a bomb at a Christian market in central Indonesia, killing seven people and underscoring the ongoing battle against terror in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Police spokesman Rais Adam said officers were questioning two people detained near the scene of the blast in Palu on Sulawesi island, but stressed the pair had not been formally charged with any crime.
The explosion sent nails and ball bearings tearing into vendors and shoppers at the market, which was packed with people buying pork for New Year’s celebrations.
Authorities initially said eight people were killed and 45 injured in the attack, but they revised the death toll to seven on Sunday, said Anton Bachrul Alam, national police spokesman. A critically injured 13-year-old child had been erroneously included in the dead.
The bombing followed warnings that Islamic extremists were planning attacks against Christian and Western targets over the holiday season.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the blast, which occurred despite more than 47,000 soldiers and police being deployed nationwide to ward off attacks.
The country’s security minister, Widodo Adisucipto, told reporters the bombing was likely linked to terrorist groups.
He refused to elaborate, but suspicion immediately fell on Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaida-linked group that has been blamed for a series of bombings in Indonesia, including two attacks on Bali that together killed 222 people, many of them foreigners. It is also accused in Christmas Eve church bombings five years ago that left 19 dead.
Sulawesi’s 12.5 million people are mainly split between Christians and Muslims, but there are tiny Buddhist and Hindu communities.
Central Sulawesi was the scene of fierce battles between Muslims and Christians in 2001 and 2002 that killed about 1,000 people and attracted Islamic militants from all over Indonesia responding to calls for a holy war.
Despite a peace deal, Islamic militants have continued a campaign of bombings, shootings and other attacks on Christians, including market blasts in May that killed 20 people and the beheadings of three Christian schoolgirls in October. No one has been charged in those attacks.