Bomber strikes Indonesian hotel

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

From wire reports

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A suspected suicide bombing at the Marriott Hotel created lunchtime carnage in Jakarta's business district Tuesday, killing 14 people and wounding 148, setting cars afire and scattering glass shards for blocks in a bloody act of terrorism in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

The blast came two days before a verdict in the trial of a key suspect in the Bali nightclub bombings last Oct. 12 that killed 202 people, many of them foreigners. A Dutch banker was among the dead Tuesday, and at least 10 foreigners, including two Americans, were reported injured.

Explosives were hidden in a Toyota Kijang, an Indonesian-built minivan, which was moving slowly toward the lobby, said Gen. Da'i Bachtiar, the national police chief. The bomb went off at about 12:45 p.m., with the hotel's main restaurant filled to capacity. Witnesses said they saw a fireball about 12 feet high, followed by billows of black smoke.

The 33-floor, 333-room Marriott, which is managed by the global chain based in Bethesda, Md., has had a special relationship with the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta since it opened in September 2001. The embassy has held meetings and Fourth of July celebrations there and uses it to house temporary personnel. No Americans died in the attack; most of the victims were Indonesians.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but analysts said the attack was probably the work of the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiah, which intelligence agencies say cooperates with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida organization.

Indonesian police have targeted Jemaah Islamiah in recent months, arresting more than 40 suspected members accused of involvement in October's nightclub bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali. The attack killed 202 people and was the most deadly act of terror since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Da'i, the police chief, said that police had found the minivan's engine, pieces of its radiator, its chassis registration number and its license plate and were trying to locate the vehicle's owner.

At the scene of the blast, broken glass, twisted metal, bloody body parts and singed shoes and clothing littered the area surrounding the hotel and the adjacent Mutiara Plaza shopping mall. The shells of at least eight burned cars and limousines smoldered in front of the plaza.

The explosion took place on the same day that Abubakar Baasyir, identified by intelligence agencies as the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah, was testifying in his own defense in a trial here in Jakarta. He is accused of treason and seeking to overthrow the Indonesian government and of involvement in a series of church bombings across Indonesia on Christmas Eve 2000 that killed 19 people. Police have also said he participated in a plot to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

The blast came two days before the first verdict is expected in the Bali bombing trials, and Jemaah Islamiah had threatened retaliation if any of the three dozen suspects on trial were executed. It also came four days after Megawati publicly pledged to destroy the terror networks responsible for those attacks and others in Indonesia.

"This domestic branch of the international terrorism movement is a terrifying threat," she said.

High-rise breaks

Windows in the hotel were shattered up to the 21st floor. Virtually an entire side of the high-rise Mutiara Plaza had lost its windows, and shredded draperies flapped in the wind.

Many of the victims were in the hotel's ground-floor restaurant, whose 250 seats were filled -- prospective diners were put on a waiting list.

"I just heard an explosion and saw glass everywhere," said Irna Fahrianti, 19, who was in training to be a waitress at the restaurant. "I covered my head with a tray. Everyone ran out, including me. I held my leg. My friend helped me."

Fahrianti, who spoke from her bed at Jakarta Hospital, where she was taken with an injured leg, said she ran to someone's car and that person drove her to Jakarta Hospital, one of several hospitals to treat the victims.

One waiter, I. Gede Susriawawan, 27, was among the luckier ones. He heard the bomb, saw the restaurant's plate glass windows shatter and dove to the floor. He suffered a gash on his forehead from flying glass, but was otherwise unhurt. "Everybody was terrified," he said, standing in a hospital hallway as burn victims were wheeled by. "They were running to get outside."

As in Bali last year, bulletins were posted outside hospital emergency rooms with the names -- or sometimes just nationalities -- of the wounded: Astrid Wikastri; Agus; USA; Oscar, 24; Pieter, 37.

Simon Leunig, a marketing manager from Perth, Australia, had just showered in his seventh-floor room when he heard the explosion. "The windows blew in, throwing me across the room onto the bed," he said.

He said he grabbed his cell phone and passport, pulled on a pair of trousers and sneakers, ran to the elevator and "got out of there as fast as I could."

He helped one wounded guest out from the lobby, he said, and saw two dead Indonesian limo or taxi drivers outside. He helped carry one badly injured man and was still clutching a piece of the man's burned clothing as he stood on a sidewalk cordoned off by police tape. "I think he's going to make it," he said of the man he had helped.

About 100 yards from the hotel, on a sidewalk near Mutiara Plaza, lay a pair of scorched Fila sneakers and one black loafer, scraps of charred clothing and a bloody piece of human bone. Forensic workers carefully wrapped everything in gauze sheets and removed it to be examined as evidence.

One of the two Americans injured was treated and released, the U.S. Embassy said. The other was still being treated, according to U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce.

"We extend our deepest condolences to the victims of this deplorable act of violence," Boyce said.

The attack occurred while a State Department travel warning for Indonesia is in effect, advising Americans to defer all non-essential trips to the country. Britain and Australia have posted similar warnings. One Australian was wounded Tuesday, the Australian Embassy said.

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