The shocking murder of Fr Jacques Hamel in France in July inspired a young radical Islamic terrorist to attack a Catholic priest in his native Indonesia last week, but his suicide belt failed to explode and police captured him after he inflicted minor casualties.
Fr Albert Pandiangan said he saw Ivan Armadi Hasugian, 17, wielding a knife as he ran toward him on 28 August with smoke coming from his backpack. “My arm was slashed and parishioners rescued me from the assault,” he told a local newspaper in the northern city of Medan.
Medan’s police chief told local journalists that Hasugian had seen reports of Fr Hamel’s murder in Rouen, where two terrorists slit his throat during Mass, and "tried to do the same thing here".
General Tito Karnavian, chief of the national police, confirmed the link to France and said communications evidence showed the attacker had been in contact with an Indonesian radical in the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in Syria.
“It is an indication that the lone wolf [phenomenon] is growing in Indonesia,” he told foreign journalists visiting on a study tour organised by the Hawaii-based East-West Centre.
Jakarta Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo, head of the bishops conference, denounced the attack as “inhuman” and said terror and violence solved nothing and were “only a source of suffering”.
Fr Edy Purwanto, executive secretary of the Indonesian Bishops Council, said the attack should worry other faiths in the country as well. "Terrorists not only undermine the Catholic Church or Christians, they can also undermine the religious freedom of other non-Christian religions."
Medan’s Archbishop Anicetus Bongsu Sinaga urged local Catholics to remain calm and he and other local religious leaders said the attack did not appear be linked to any conflict in the city disturbing the normally amicable relations between faiths there.
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country with a record of interfaith harmony, but a tiny minority of radical Islamists has been growing in recent years. Census results show 87 per cent of the population is Muslim and only 2.9 per cent is Catholic.
Hamel’s death shocked France, coming just 12 days after a Tunisian who had pledged allegiance to IS drove his truck through a crowd of Bastille Day revellers in the Riviera city of Nice, killing 85.
Indonesian officials said a note in Hasugian’s backpack read, “I love al-Baghdadi”, referring to the leader of the Islamic State movement. “Judging from the cellphone seized by security forces, this youth was obsessed with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” one said.
Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin admitted Islamic radicals were increasingly strident in public and the government was drawing up a draft law to limit hate speech on social media that would thwart extreme statements by all religious communities.
Officials estimate that Indonesia has hundreds of IS sympathisers on its soil. The country’s first attack linked to Islamic State came in January, killing four people in Jakarta.
Hasugian told police that two men had paid him the equivalent of £110,000 to stage the attack, but police chief Karnavian said that appeared to be a story fabricated to lessen his responsibility in the case.