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ASIA: Suicide blasts at Jakarta Ritz, Marriott kill eight

By Anthony Deutsch
Sat Jul 18 02:05:40 EST 2009

JAKARTA, Indonesia, July 17 AP/AAP - Suicide bombers who checked in as guests smuggled explosives into two American luxury hotels in Indonesia's capital and set off bombs that killed at least eight people and wounded more than 50, investigators say.

Two Australians are believed to be among those killed in the deadly bomb blasts that rocked two Jakarta hotels on Friday.

Perth businessman Nathan Verity, 38, and senior trade official Craig Senger are among three missing Australians after bombs went off at the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott hotels on Friday morning.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he was "sick to the stomach" at the terrorist attacks, which he described as barbaric acts of murder.

The government wasn't confirming any deaths but Mr Rudd said he had "grave concerns" for three Australians.

"I have grave concerns for three Australians following the terrorist bombings in Jakarta earlier today," he told reporters late on Friday.

"One of these Australians is an Australian Embassy official.

"These figures may be the subject of further change."

More than 50 people - including two Australians - were also injured in the bombings.

The near-simultaneous bombings on Friday ended a four-year lull in terror attacks on civilian, Western targets in the world's most populous Muslim nation. At least 18 foreigners were among the dead and wounded.

The blasts at the two hotels, located side-by-side in an upmarket business district in Jakarta, 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. An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw bodies being shuttled away in police trucks.

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. It was terrible."

The Marriott was hosting a regular meeting of top foreign executives at major companies in Indonesia organised by consultancy firm CastleAsia, said the group, which is headed by an American.

An Australian think tank, the Strategic Policy Institute, predicted the South-East Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah might launch new attacks just a day before Friday's deadly strike.

A paper released on Thursday said tensions in the group's leadership and the release of former members from prison "raise the possibility that splinter factions might now seek to re-energise the movement through violent attacks."

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the attack was carried out by a "terrorist group" and vowed to arrest the perpetrators. He also suggested a possible link to the national election last week that is expected to hand him another five-year term as president, but he provided no details.

Suspicion will fall Jemaah Islamiyah or its allies. The network is blamed for past attacks in Indonesia, including a 2003 bombing at the Marriott when 12 people died.

"Those who carried out this attack and those who planned it will be arrested and tried according to the law," a Yudhoyono told a news conference.

The Manchester United football team cancelled a planned visit to Indonesia. The team had been 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.

Jakarta police chief Major General Wahyono said two suicide bombers carried out the attacks at the hotels. The suspects of the Marriott bombing stayed on the 18th floor, where undetonated explosives were found after Friday's twin explosions.

"There were several perpetrators," he told reporters. "They were disguised as guests and stayed in room 1808."

Security is supposedly tight at all five-star hotels in Indonesia. Guests typically walk through metal detectors and vehicles are inspected, but many visitors say searches are often cursory.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the bombings as reflecting "the viciousness of violent extremists" and said they "remind us that the threat of terrorism remains very real". She said the United States is prepared to provide assistance if requested by the Indonesian government.

The European Union condemned the blasts as "brutal".

The Marriott was hit first, followed by the blast at the Ritz two minutes later.

Security Minister Widodo Adi Sucipto told reporters at the scene the hotel blasts happened at 7:45am and 7:47am (1045 and 1047 AEST) and that "high explosives were used". He said eight people were killed and 50 wounded.

Security video footage shown on a local TV station captured the moment of the explosion in one of the hotels. The brief, grainy images showed a man in a cap walking across the lobby toward the restaurant with other hotel guests and then smoke filling the air.

"There was a big explosion followed by a shock wave," said Ahmad Rochadi, a security guard at the Marriott who was checking cars in the basement. "I rushed upstairs and saw smoke billowing from the lobby."

Anti-terrorist forces with automatic weapons were rushed to the site, 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 17 other foreigners were among the wounded, including nationals from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea the US and Britain.

The dead New Zealander was identified by his employer as Timothy David Mackay, 62, who worked for cement products manufacturer PT Holcim Indonesia. He was reportedly attending a business meeting at the Marriott Hotel when the explosions occurred.

Noel Clay, a US State Department spokesman in Washington, said several American citizens were among the injured. Three Americans were listed as patients at the Metropolitan Medical Centre hospital.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna said the likely perpetrators were from the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah.

"The only group with the intention and capability to mount attacks upon Western targets is 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-terrorist officials in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation of 235 million, but Gunaratna said the group was "still a very capable terrorist organisation".

Police have detained most of the key figures in the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah and rounded up hundreds of other sympathisers and lesser figures.

In October 2002 two Bali nightclubs were attacked killing 202 people, many of them foreign tourists. Jemaah Islamiyah was accused of responsibility.