updated 12/31/2005 3:21:17 AM ET 2005-12-31T08:21:17

A bomb ripped through a crowded meat market Saturday in an Indonesian province that has been plagued by sectarian violence, killing at least eight people and wounding 45, officials said. Many of the victims were believed to be Christians.

The attack occurred in the town of Palu on Sulawesi island as people were preparing for New Year’s Eve celebrations, flocking to the morning market that sold and slaughtered pigs, said Brig. Gen. Oegroseno, police chief of Central Sulawesi province.

The bomb appeared to be a homemade device, he said, loaded with ball bearings and nails to maximize the number casualties.

“The explosion was so loud, I couldn’t hear for a couple of seconds,” said Tega, a resident who lives nearby and uses only one name, like many Indonesians. “I ran out of my house and saw bodies lying around.”

Television footage showed police carrying bloodied bodies into ambulances. One man, apparently unhurt, was holding his head in his hands and screaming. Hospital workers and intelligence officials said at least eight people died and Oegroseno said another 45 were wounded.

Holiday threats
Police said it was too early to say who was behind the attack, but it followed repeated warnings that members of the al-Qaida-linked militant group Jemaah Islamiyah were plotting strikes in the world’s most populous Muslim nation over the holidays. The government responded by deploying tens of thousands of troops nationwide to protect churches and places where foreigners gather.

Jemaah Islamiyah has been blamed for a series of bloody bombings in Indonesia since 2000, including two strikes 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.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned Saturday’s blast, and urged police to investigate whether it was linked to other attacks on Christians on Sulawesi earlier this year, said his spokesman Andi Mallarangeng.

Ninety percent of Indonesia’s 210 million people are Muslim, and most people practice a moderate form of the faith. But attacks against Christians have increased in recent years amid a global rise in Islamic radicalism.

Almost half of Sulawesi’s population is Christian. The province was the scene of fierce battles between Muslims and Christians in 2001 and 2002 that killed about 1,000 people, and despite a peace deal, bombings, shootings and other attacks on Christians have continued.

Series of attacks
There have been a series of attacks in recent months, and security officials and former militants told The Associated Press in recent interviews that Jemaah Islamiyah was involved.

In October, unidentified assailants beheaded three Christian high school girls in Poso, east of Palu. In May, two bombs in the Christian-dominated town of Tentena killed 20 people. Police have questioned several suspects in those attacks, but have not formally brought charges against anyone.

One Christian clergyman said Saturday he was losing patience.

“Whenever an incident takes place, senior officials ask us to tell the people to remain unprovoked,” said Rinaldy Damanik, leader of the Synod Churches of Central Sulawesi. “When will the authorities be able to reveal the barbaric perpetrators in the province?”

Maj. Gen. Firman Gani, the Jakarta police chief, said last week that Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists might use the holidays to retaliate for the November death of bomb-making expert Azahari bin Husin, who was gunned down in a police raid.

On Christmas Eve, bomb squads searched for explosives at churches in the capital Jakarta and its satellite cities, where thousands gathered to worship. Security forces also tightly guarded dozens of churches on Sulawesi.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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