- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

JAKARTA, Indonesia — A powerful car bomb exploded in an apparent suicide attack yesterday outside the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Jakarta, killing 14 persons and wounding 148 — including two Americans.

Shattered glass and puddles of blood covered the ground for two blocks around the hotel after the bombing, which came amid fears that Islamic militants continue to target visitors after last year’s Bali bombings.

“People were screaming, panicking,” said Sodik, a man who goes by one name who was having lunch on the 27th floor of an adjacent building. “I thought it was an earthquake.”

The attack targeted the Indonesian capital’s business district, which is near many embassies and is a popular place for foreigners to stay.

No one immediately claimed responsibility, but the blast came two days ahead of a verdict in the trial of a key suspect in the Bali nightclub bombings, which killed 202.

Authorities warned that more attacks were likely in Indonesia after the Oct. 12 Bali attack, which the United States and other governments blamed on the al Qaeda-linked regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah.

As police investigated the carnage at the Marriott, the terror group’s suspected leader, Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, began testifying in a Jakarta courtroom in his trial for a series of Christmas Eve church bombings three years ago.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said yesterday’s attack showed characteristics of past violence by the Jemaah Islamiyah. He said it was a trademark of the group to cause as many deaths as possible, though he stressed that most casualties appeared to be Indonesians, not foreigners.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s government has arrested scores of Jemaah Islamiyah members since the Bali attacks, and yesterday’s bombing amplified fears that militants are trying to strike back at her administration.

Vice President Hamzah Haz said the car bomb might have targeted U.S. interests in the country. He called the blast a “diabolical and inhumane terrorist attack,” adding: “We cannot allow any space for terrorism.”

Black smoke billowed from the front of the JW Marriott Hotel, part of the Bethesda-based chain. The Marriott is a regular venue for U.S. Embassy receptions. American officials for the past two years held Fourth of July celebrations there.

The Bush administration condemned the bombing and pledged to help the Indonesian government investigate.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan, accompanying President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, called the bombing “a deplorable attack on innocent civilians.”

“We stand fully prepared to assist in any way possible to bring those responsible to justice,” he said. Mr. McClellan declined to comment on whether the administration thought groups tied to al Qaeda were responsible.

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta said a State Department travel advisory for Indonesia remained in effect.

“Private Americans are at risk as well as embassy personnel,” embassy spokesman Tim Gerhardson said, adding that U.S. authorities are confident of the Indonesian government’s ability to rein in terrorism and protect American interests.

The Indonesian government ordered strict security checks at the airport and other public places, and Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said officials would announce stronger measures today.

An Associated Press photographer on the scene minutes after the blast saw three badly burned bodies on the ground outside the damaged hotel and the adjacent Plaza Mutiara office building.

The toll of 14 dead and 148 wounded was announced by the Indonesian Red Cross.

Police chief Gen. Da’i Bachtiar said officials suspected the explosives were placed in an Indonesian-made van, adding that its chassis number already had been discovered along with the vehicle’s registration number.

Gen. Bachtiar said body parts were found near the wrecked vehicle and police were investigating whether they were those of bystanders or the attacker.

He also said Indonesian police had contacted Australian federal police to help investigate, as they did for the Bali bombings.

“From the things we found at the crime scene, it looks very much like the bomb in Bali,” Gen. Bachtiar said. “The situation is like it was in Bali.”

He said he could not confirm it was a suicide bomb, but the blast occurred when the vehicle was moving and blew a hole in the ground one to two yards deep.

Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso, who like many Indonesians uses a single name, said it was “very likely” a suicide attack.

Among the dead was Hans Winkelmolen, the Dutch president of PT Rabobank Duta Indonesia, a company spokeswoman said. The bank is majority-owned by Rabobank of the Netherlands.

The U.S. Embassy said two Americans were wounded, as were two Singaporeans, two Chinese, one Australian and one New Zealander, according to the official Antara news agency.

Some of the casualties were security guards stationed in front of the Marriott and nearby offices. The adjacent Rajawali building houses Scandinavian embassies, but no staffers there were injured.

The blast was sure to hurt Indonesia’s efforts to lure back tourists and foreign investors following the Bali carnage.

Australia, which lost 88 citizens in the Bali blasts, denounced yesterday’s bombing as “a brutal terrorist attack” and warned its people to avoid central Jakarta.

Mellanie Solagratia, a Marriott spokeswoman, said most damage appeared to have occurred in the hotel’s basement and second floor. She said the 330-room hotel was 77 percent occupied.

The lobby was badly damaged, with shattered windows and chairs and tables strewn about. Several cars smoldered outside.

Jakarta has seen a number of bombings in recent years as Indonesia grapples with security problems and political turmoil.

Last week, Mrs. Megawati vowed to destroy terrorist networks responsible for a series of bombings across the world’s largest Muslim nation, saying her government would “dismantle the terrorist network to its roots.”

A court in Bali was scheduled to deliver its verdict tomorrow in the trial of Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, accused of planning and carrying out the Bali attacks with other members of Jemaah Islamiyah.

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