Jakarta blast kills 9, injures 180

JI blamed for car bomb outside Australian embassy.

Indonesia was rocked by another devastating terrorist attack – the third in two years – after a powerful car bomb exploded outside the Australian embassy here.

As of last night, nine people were dead, more than 180 injured and buildings within a kilometre’s radius of the site in Jakarta’s central business district were damaged.

Officials immediately blamed the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorist network for the havoc, which occurred in the midst of election campaigns in both Indonesia and Australia.

On hearing news of the explosion, President Megawati Sukarnoputri cut short her trip to Brunei, for the wedding of the sultanate’s crown prince, and returned to Jakarta.

She went to the site and visited the injured in hospital.

In Canberra, Prime Minister John Howard condemned the attack, said Australia would not be cowed, and despatched Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and a team of experts to help in investigations in Jakarta.

All the dead and most of the injured were ordinary Indonesians – security staff at the embassy, those waiting to enter the building and passers-by.

Apart from broken glass, wrecked shells of cars, vans and motorcycles, eyewitnesses saw bloody corpses and grisly human remains strewn across the six-lane main street in the Kuningan district that houses foreign embassies, businesses and shopping malls.

A woman security officer told Metro TV those who died were simply too near the explosion. ‘There was no place to escape,’ she said.

Mr Budi Harianto, 30, who was slightly injured in the leg as he queued at the embassy to get a visa, told AFP news agency: ‘It was like an earthquake, like thunder.’

There was chaos on the street as dazed and bloody survivors tried desperately to locate colleagues and missing family members in the minutes after the blast.

Intelligence officials believe the bomb that set off the explosion, at 10.15am, might have been about twice the size of that used in the Marriott Hotel attack in August last year.

The force of the attack blew out windows up to 30 storeys above street level in at least 10 office towers near the fortress-like embassy.

Right until late afternoon, against a backdrop of wailing ambulance sirens, black smoke billowed from the area as investigators combed the area for clues.

The Straits Times learnt from sources close to the JI network that the terrorist group had been targeting the Australian embassy and Ambassador David Ritchie for the last two months.

A Muslim radical in touch with JI leaders said: ‘Australia is a lackey of America and George Bush. This is another warning to them after Bali. Don’t try and persecute Muslims in Indonesia and around the world.’

The explosion came just a day after the US State Department issued a travel advisory warning Americans to defer non-essential travel to Indonesia upon receiving information that JI and other extremist groups were planning attacks in Indonesia.

The alert said that Western hotels were potential targets ahead of the third anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US.

Initial reports yesterday suggested that the bomb had been delivered by motorcycle, but national police chief Dai Bachtiar said that preliminary investigations showed that a car bomb was used.

He did not make it clear if a suicide bomber was involved, but reports said that remains of a human torso had been hurled across the street.

Malaysian fugitive Azahari Husin, known as ‘the bomb-maker’ by regional intelligence officers, is believed to have planned the attack.

Sources said that it was carried out by his right-hand man Dulmatin alias Noval, together with newly recruited members drawn from Sumatra.

A JI-linked source said that the attack was initially planned for March, but was delayed because of heightened police scrutiny.

Taking place just 11 days before the presidential election, it also raised concerns about the continuing security threat and promised to make tackling terror a key issue in next week’s campaign.

Like President Megawati, challenger Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also went to the site of the explosion and visited the injured in hospital.

Both condemned the attack, with Mrs Megawati saying: ‘I ask all the Indonesian people to unite in fighting terrorism.’

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