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Authorities Pursue 'Specific' Suspects in Bali Terror Blast

Indonesian police search on four islands for seven people, including two allegedly linked to Al Qaeda, intelligence sources say.

October 16, 2002|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

KUTA, Indonesia -- Authorities searched Tuesday for seven suspects in a deadly bombing in Bali, including two Arabs allegedly connected to Al Qaeda, intelligence sources said.

Indonesian police were searching on Bali and three other islands for the suspects, who are believed to have fled after the Saturday night attack that killed at least 188 people, most of them young foreign tourists.

Police officials could not be reached to confirm the report, but one source said Indonesian authorities had informed U.S. and Australian intelligence agents here of the search for the suspects.

In Washington, U.S. intelligence officials said they had no information on suspects in the bombing.

Indonesia had already suffered a string of terrorist bombings that have claimed dozens of lives over the last two years. Before Saturday's blast devastated a popular tourist district in Bali, however, the national government had not made a commitment to aggressively pursue terrorist suspects.

After long denying that Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network was active in Indonesia, the government blamed the bombing on foreign operatives from the group, working with Indonesians. It is unclear what evidence the government has of the terrorist network's involvement.

"This attack has been well planned, and it required expertise in handling high-tech" bombs, Indonesian intelligence chief A.M. Hendropriyono told reporters. "It is a very complicated task and is outside the ability of local hands."

The police search was focused on the islands of Java, Sulawesi and Lombok, as well as Bali, said one of the intelligence sources, who added: "They are after specific people."

Police say they found traces of C4 plastic explosives at the site, which may have been used to help detonate a homemade explosive, such as ammonium nitrate fertilizer mixed with diesel fuel. The bomb was in a van and set off by remote control, possibly with a cellular phone or radio transmitter, authorities say.

Parts of the Mitsubishi van used in the bombing were recovered, including the engine block and the chassis. However, all identifying numbers had been removed before the bombing, making it difficult to trace the vehicle's ownership, a police investigator said. The van earlier had been identified as a Toyota Kijang.

Police are holding two people as part of the investigation. "There are two witnesses who we are questioning because they are a bit suspicious," said Brig. Gen. Saleh Saaf, the Indonesian national police spokesman.

Police also questioned 10 Pakistanis living on Bali who had been involved in religious activities.

In the northern Sulawesi island city of Manado, police arrested two suspects for their alleged involvement in a bombing that occurred there the same evening as the Bali blast. A small bomb exploded outside the Philippine Consulate in the city and blew down a gate but caused no injuries.

Authorities believe that the blast may be linked to the car bomb in Bali and another small explosion that occurred about 100 yards from the U.S. Honorary Consulate in Bali the same evening, causing no casualties.

In a separate development Tuesday, the radical Islamic group Laskar Jihad, whose members fought Christians on the Molucca Islands in eastern Indonesia, announced that it would disband.

Some of the fighters began surrendering their weapons and withdrawing from the islands.

Some intelligence analysts see the recent blasts as a sign of the growing reach of organized terrorists in Southeast Asia. They believe that the Bali bombing was carried out by Al Qaeda in cooperation with Jemaah Islamiah, a regional terrorist organization that allegedly plotted last year to blow up seven targets in Singapore with truck bombs.

In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard said he would seek to have Jemaah Islamiah listed by the United Nations as a terrorist organization. British Prime Minister Tony Blair also said he would like to add the group to his nation's list of proscribed extremist groups, though he acknowledged that there was as yet no firm evidence to link the organization to the Bali bombing.

Authorities in the Philippines said Tuesday that they had issued warrants for four suspected Jemaah Islamiah members -- two Filipinos and two foreigners -- who allegedly took part in a series of deadly bombings in Manila in 2000.

"I believe they are part of the group," said police Gen. Roberto Delfin, head of the Philippine National Police Intelligence Directorate. "We believe they are still planning" more terrorist acts.

Members of Jemaah Islamiah in Singapore and Malaysia have identified Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir as the organization's leader. He has repeatedly denied involvement.

Before the Bali bombing, Indonesian police interviewed Bashir but refused to take action against him, saying there was no evidence that he was in charge of Jemaah Islamiah. Police are expected to interview him again this week.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Bashir accused Western intelligence agencies of staging the Bali bombing to make it appear that terrorists were operating in Indonesia.

"I am sure it was masterminded by foreign intelligence agencies that are Jewish and American," Bashir said. "It was done to justify the image that America wants to create that Indonesia is a terrorist hotbed."

U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Ralph Boyce called Bashir's remarks "outrageous and reprehensible."

Hundreds of Hindus, Muslims and Christians attended a sunset ceremony Tuesday near the Bali bombing site to light candles and pray for the victims. Many brought flowers, incense and offerings of food.

Among those joining in the ceremony was Ibu Agus Pramono, 46, a Muslim who lost a friend in the explosion. "I have no idea who did it, but I really hope they are arrested and brought to justice quickly," she said.

Times staff writer Janet Stobart in London contributed to this report.

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