14 dead in JI terror strike

CARNAGE IN JAKARTA

Car-bomb blast at Jakarta Marriott leaves 150 injured JI operative says attack is a warning to Megawati govt US condemns attack, offers Mega help and support.

Indonesia has been rocked by another major terrorist attack, just nine months after the Bali bombings. An explosion tore through a luxury hotel here yesterday, killing at least 14 people and injuring more than 150.

The Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network claimed responsibility, calling it ‘a bloody warning’ to President Megawati Sukarnoputri not to clamp down on militants.

‘This is a message for her and all our enemies that, if they execute any of our Muslim brothers, we will continue this campaign of terror in Indonesia and the region,’ a JI operative told The Straits Times.

The United States joined several other countries in condemning the attack and offered to help Jakarta bring those responsible to book.

The bombing, the fifth to hit Jakarta this year, came just two days before a court is due to deliver its verdict on the first of three dozen suspects on trial for bombing two Bali nightclubs last October.

Islamic militant Amrozi Nurhasyim faces the death sentence.

The midday attack on the American-owned five-star JW Marriott Hotel, in the heart of the Indonesian capital, left little doubt about the JI’s ability to wage a devastating terror campaign in Indonesia.

The hotel, popular with foreign businessmen, is in the Kuningan area, where dozens of embassies and the homes of Cabinet members, lawmakers and senior army officials are located.

National police chief Da’i Bachtiar blamed the blast on a powerful car bomb. He told reporters at the scene that the bomb was apparently in a Kijang van, a popular locally-assembled vehicle, parked in the adjacent Plaza Mutiara building.

The presence of body parts near the wreckage of the van suggested that it could have been a suicide bombing, although this was not confirmed by the authorities.

One thing that was not in doubt, however, was the scale of the devastation. The impact of the explosion left a 2m wide crater at least a metre deep.

Shattered glass, blood and pieces of burnt skin covered the ground for two blocks around the hotel, located in the business district.

The blast also ripped apart a restaurant and part of the Marriott lobby, as well as buildings on either side of the hotel, south of the city centre.

Ceiling and wall panels were scattered in the street outside the lobby of the hotel, exposing the bare concrete pillars. But the building appeared to be structurally intact.

One survivor, a waiter who gave his name as Simon, was tending a sushi bar at the lunch buffet at the coffee shop on the first floor when the blast went off only metres away.

‘It was a nightmare,’ he said. ‘People were stuck under massive concrete chunks.

‘People with broken limbs or no limbs. Some of them yelled in pain, asking me for help.

‘But the worst of it was seeing two people burnt to death outside. I think they were security people who were very close tothe source of the explosion.’

Another man who worked in the Japanese restaurant on the third floor and identified himself only as Sammy, said that he was serving customers when the whole hotel shook.

‘I heard a big bang. It was like an earthquake. I thought that one of the elevators might have crashed to the ground or that something had crashed into the hotel.’

The blast shattered windows several stories up on both the hotel and the Rajawali Tower next door, which houses the embassies of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

This gave rise to speculation that another bomb could have gone off, but preliminary investigations indicated that only one device had been used.

Thick smoke billowed from the front of the Marriott until late afternoon, as flames engulfed the ground floor of the hotel and at least eight cars parked outside of it.

There were conflicting reports about the foreigners who died.

Indonesian Red Cross chairman Mari’e Muhamad said that many of the injured had suffered 90 per cent burns.

The Singapore Foreign Ministry said that 17 Singaporeans were staying at the 333-room Marriott and 12 were given assistance, including temporary travel documents, to get home.

Four Singaporeans were admitted to hospital with burns and one was said to be in intensive care. They are due home today.

President Megawati visited the blast site, as rescue and forensic teams combed the area for clues.

She stayed for about 15 minutes before leaving without making any comment.

In Crawford, Texas, where President George W. Bush is spending a month-long working vactation at his ranch, Reuters quoted White House spokesman Scott McClellan as saying the US strongly condemned the Jakarta blast.

‘This is a deplorable attack on innocent civilians.

‘We fully support President Megawati and her administration in their efforts to fight terror and rout out terrorism and we stand ready to help in any way to help bring those responsible to justice.’

He said the blast was also ‘a reminder that we are still waging a global war on terrorism’.

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