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Jakarta Attack Seemed to Aim at Americans

Although the bombed hotel was a gathering spot for U.S. citizens, at least 90% of the more than 160 casualties were Indonesians.

August 07, 2003|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Attackers who detonated a car bomb outside the JW Marriott Hotel here apparently had intended to strike at the United States by attacking a popular gathering spot for Americans.

But whether by a quirk of fate or bad planning, the bombers' biggest success Tuesday was in killing and maiming Indonesians.

The Indonesian Red Cross said Wednesday that at least 90% of the more than 160 injured or dead were Indonesians: security guards and taxi drivers, wealthy businessmen and office workers who happened to converge at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Two American women were hurt in the blast. One was treated for minor injuries and released; the other was evacuated to Singapore for treatment of burns and cuts.

"It was very likely an attack on an American symbol," said U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce. "But the death and casualty rate shows that these terrorists have no compunction about taking anybody down with them in their despicable effort to cause mass casualties."

Authorities say the bombing might have been a suicide attack carried out by Jemaah Islamiah, an extremist group with connections to Al Qaeda. Jemaah Islamiah has been responsible for more than a dozen deadly bombings in Southeast Asia.

The car bomb exploded near the lobby of the Marriott at lunchtime, when the area was bustling with people. The explosion devastated the lobby, a hotel restaurant and the adjoining Mutiara office building. Many of the victims were in the ground-floor restaurant or outside near the hotel driveway when the bomb went off.

The Indonesian Red Cross initially reported 15 dead, but on Wednesday the organization's secretary-general, Iyang Sukandar, said that nine people were confirmed dead and that 27 bags of body parts still remained to be identified. It was unclear how many individuals' remains were in the bags. Sukandar said it also was unclear how many people, if any, were missing since the explosion.

Of the dead identified so far, Hans Winkelmolen, a Dutch banker, was the only foreigner. The other eight were Indonesians, including four security guards and two taxi drivers.

Of 152 people injured in the attack, 12 have been identified as foreigners: four Singaporeans, two Chinese, two Australians, one New Zealander, one Canadian and the two Americans.

"Maybe their target was foreigners, but most of the victims are Indonesians," Sukandar said.

Police said they were searching for two men who two weeks ago bought the Toyota minivan that was used as the bomb. Authorities released a sketch of one of the suspects, a cleanshaven man about 30 years old.

Investigators say the hands, head and other remains of a man who was in the minivan at the time of the blast were found at the scene. It was unclear whether he was one of the men who purchased the vehicle.

Police were investigating whether he detonated the bomb or whether someone at a distance triggered it, perhaps with a cell phone.

Police said that they had received warning of an attack in the vicinity of the hotel when they seized documents in a raid on a Jemaah Islamiah house last month. At the time, officials issued a general warning about the possibility of a terrorist attack but did not warn the public about the locations that could be vulnerable.

Boyce said the police never passed on information about the targets to anyone at the U.S. Embassy.

"In no cases did we have any indication that the Marriott was a target," Boyce said. "When we get targeting information, we provide it to the target. In this case we didn't have any information of this kind, so we couldn't have shared it."

Some experts say the Marriott attack was intended as a warning to authorities not to punish suspected Jemaah Islamiah members charged with carrying out two Bali nightclub bombings in October that killed 202 people.

A Bali court is scheduled today to deliver its verdict in the case of Amrozi bin H. Nurhasyim, the first to go on trial for that attack. Accused of buying a car and explosives for the more destructive of the two Bali bombs, he faces the death penalty.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer warned Wednesday that Jemaah Islamiah could carry out another bomb attack if Amrozi is convicted.

"We have particular concerns at the moment about central Jakarta, but also other places in Indonesia," Downer said. "There could be a further terrorist attack in the next day or so."

Boyce said the attack at the Marriott could have been much worse if the minivan had pulled up another 10 yards toward the middle of the hotel's U-shaped driveway. A taxi apparently blocked its way, and the bomb exploded at the corner of the restaurant rather than near the center, where it could have been more destructive.

"If they had gotten the car up the driveway a little further, it would have caused a lot more damage," the ambassador said.

The White House said President Bush spoke Wednesday with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to express his condolences and to offer help investigating the attack.

Indonesian Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia realized it was vulnerable to continuing attacks and must join with other nations to fight terrorism. "I think the world should know that what we are facing is international terrorist organizations, not domestic terror cells," he said.

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