9 dead in Jakarta hotels blast
JAKARTA: Bombs minutes apart ripped through two luxury hotels in Jakarta Friday, killing nine and wounding at least 50 more, ending a four-year lull in terror attacks in the world's most populous Muslim nation. At least 14 foreigners were among the dead and wounded.
The blasts at the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels, located side-by-side in an upscale business district in the capital, blew out windows and scattered debris and glass across the street, kicking up a thick plume of smoke. Facades of both hotels were reduced to twisted metal.
Alex Asmasubrata, who was jogging nearby, said he walked into the Marriott before emergency services arrived and "there were bodies on the ground, one of them had no stomach," he said. "It was terrible."
The Marriott, which was attacked in 2003 in a bombing blamed on Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah, was hit first, followed by the blast at the Ritz two minutes later. The attacks came just two weeks after presidential vote expected to re-elect incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who has been credited with stabilizing a nation previously wracked by militancy.
Local media reported that two people were killed in another explosion in a car north Jakarta later Friday. Officials confirmed a blast but said it did not appear to be related.
Security Minister Widodo Adi Sucipto told reporters at the scene the hotel blasts happened at 7:45 a.m. and 7:47 a.m. (0045 GMT, 8:45 p.m. EDT) and that "high explosives were used." He said at least nine people were killed and 50 wounded.
Anti-terror forces were rushed to the scene, and authorities blocked access to the hotels in a district also home to foreign embassies.
"This destroys our conducive situation," Sucipto said, referring to the nearly four years since a major terrorist attack in Indonesia — a triple suicide bombing at restaurants at the resort island of Bali that killed 20 people.
The security minister and police said a New Zealander was among those killed, and that thirteen other foreigners were among the wounded, including nationals from Australia, Canada, India, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the U.S.
Earlier, South Jakarta police Col. Firman Bundi said that four foreigners were killed, but gave no details.
The attacks came ahead of a high-profile trip by the Manchester United football team to Indonesia. The team was scheduled to stay at the Ritz on Saturday and Sunday nights for a friendly match against the Indonesian All Stars, the Indonesian Football association said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna said the likely perpetrators were from the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah.
"The only group with the intention and capability to mount attacks upon Western targets in Jemaah Islamiyah. I have no doubt Jemaah Islamiyah was responsible for this attack," he said.
There has been a massive crackdown in recent years by anti-terror officials in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation of 235 million, but Gunaratna said the group was "still a very capable terrorist organization."
Police have detained most of the key figures in the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah, and rounded up hundreds of other sympathizers and lesser figures.
But Gunaratna said that radical ideologues sympathetic to JI were still able to preach extremism in Indonesia, helping provide an infrastructure that could support terrorism.
Jakarta chief of police operations, Arief Wahyunadi, said the blasts were in the Ritz-Carlton's Airlangga restaurant and in the basement of the Marriott. He gave no details on what kind of bombs were used and whether they were suicide attacks.
Government spokesman Dino Patti Djalal told CNN the scene of the blasts were "eerie," when he arrived.
"The bodies I saw, some were being collected, some were on the floor," he said. "What we know, of course, is this was a coordinated attack."
When asked if Jemaah Islamiyah was behind the attack, Djalal said: "We always knew there are terrorists out there. But we've had a number of very good successes; no major attacks since the Bali bombings."
He was referring to the October 2002 bombings of two Bali nightclubs that killed some 202 people, many of them foreign tourists.
"This is a blow to us," Djalal said, but said the government would find those behind the attacks.
"The president has built his reputation on ... anti-terrorism policies," he said. "Make no mistake, he will hunt whoever is behind this."
Because of past attacks, most major hotels in Jakarta take security precautions, such as checking incoming vehicles and requiring visitors to pass through metal detectors. Still, international hotels make attractive targets, since the nature of their business requires them to be relatively open and accessible.
On Friday, Australia and New Zealand updated their travel advisories, which had already warned against unnecessary travel to Indonesia because of the risk of terrorism.
"We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Indonesia due to the very high threat of terrorist attack," the Australian Foreign Ministry said on its Web site. Those in Indonesia were warned to exercise "extreme caution."
New Zealand urged its citizens in Indonesia to keep a low profile.
Britain also updated its travel warning, though it did not raise its alert level.