- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Suspected Muslim militants detonated a car bomb yesterday outside the Australian Embassy here, killing nine persons and wounding 173 in a bloody strike at a key U.S. ally in the war in Iraq.

The blast — the first major attack attributed to Jemaah Islamiyah in more than a year — could influence elections in Australia, where the prime minister is running on a pro-American, anti-terror platform.

The bombing also comes just ahead of Indonesia’s presidential elections and two days before the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The explosion left body parts and bloody corpses strewn across the busy thoroughfare and shattered windows in buildings 500 yards away. It gutted the Greek Embassy on the 12th floor of an adjacent building, slightly wounding three diplomats.

Police said Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian terror group linked to al Qaeda, apparently was behind the blast and the bomb was likely the work of Azahari Husin, a reputed Jemaah Islamiyah member who has been on the run for three years.

No one in the heavily fortified Australian Embassy was killed, although several Australians were wounded.

The bombing came less than a week after the United States and Australia upgraded long-standing travel warnings to their citizens in Indonesia, citing an increased risk of terror attacks on Western targets.

Jemaah Islamiyah has been blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 persons, including 88 Australians, and the Aug. 5, 2003, suicide bombing at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 persons.

Australia, a key supporter of the U.S. war on terrorism, sent 2,000 troops for last year’s invasion of Iraq and still has more than 850 military personnel in the country. The Iraq war is unpopular in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan condemned the bombing while traveling with President Bush in Pennsylvania.

“This is yet another attack against civilized people everywhere,” Mr. McClellan said. “We condemn this outrageous act. The president reaffirms our solidarity with the governments of Indonesia and Australia in fighting the global war against terrorism.”

Islamist extremists blew up commuter trains in Spain just before Spanish elections in March, killing 191 persons. Days later, voters elected a Socialist administration that made good on its campaign pledge to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has faced criticism over sending troops to Iraq — a decision his opponents say has made Australia more vulnerable to terror attacks.

“This is not a nation that is going to be intimidated by acts of terrorism,” Mr. Howard said after yesterday’s bombing.

Mr. Howard is considered stronger on national security than Labor Party challenger Mark Latham — who has pledged to bring the troops home before Christmas. Elections are scheduled for Oct. 9.

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