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Indonesia Death Toll Rises to 9

Police, who say the attack was the work of the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist group, are hunting for a suspected Malaysian bomb maker.

September 10, 2004|Sari Sudarsono and Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writers

JAKARTA, Indonesia — As the death toll in Thursday's bombing of the Australian Embassy climbed to nine, police intensified their hunt for the man they believe is the master bomb builder behind the attack: a Malaysian mathematician named Azahari bin Husin.

Police said the car bomb, which injured more than 170 people, was the work of the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network and its explosives expert, Azahari, who allegedly made bombs used in the group's earlier attacks in Bali and Jakarta. Those blasts killed a total of 214 people.

"From our analysis, the bomb maker is Dr. Azahari," National Police Chief Dai Bachtiar said within hours of the embassy attack. "Dr. Azahari has the expertise. He has the ability. That's why our main target is to capture him."

The explosion in central Jakarta left a scene of devastation outside the embassy gate. Corpses and body parts were scattered in the street. Cars and motorcycles were destroyed or damaged. Part of the gate was flattened. Hundreds of windows in nearby buildings were shattered. The explosion was heard as far as nine miles away.

Lt. Gen. Suyitno Landung, Indonesia's chief of detectives, said investigators suspected that the attack was carried out by at least one suicide bomber. A witness reported seeing a car with people inside explode, he said.

Terrorism suspects who had been arrested before the attack told police that three men had been trained as suicide bombers. Authorities are attempting to identify parts of as many as three people at the scene to see if they might have been bombers.

"We don't know who they are yet because it is body parts," Landung said.

Police said Australians were the intended target, but nearly all the victims were Indonesians, including several guarding the embassy.

One of the dead was a 32-year-old Indonesian riding his motorcycle past the embassy. Another was a 30-year-old woman whose 5-year-old daughter was seriously injured.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard told reporters that the bomb exploded about 12 feet from the embassy gate. Officials said no workers inside the embassy were seriously hurt. A dozen suffered minor injuries, most caused by flying glass. Security precautions and fortification apparently prevented serious damage and injury.

Jemaah Islamiah purportedly claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on a radical Islamic website, saying it was punishing Australia for supporting the war in Iraq, Associated Press reported.

Australia and Indonesia are holding national elections within the next month, but experts on Jemaah Islamiah said the bombing was more likely motivated by a desire to attack Australia rather than to affect the outcome of the voting.

"I think this is long-standing revenge," said a source familiar with the inner workings of the group, which is closely tied to the Al Qaeda terrorist network. "Their targets are the places of foreigners. Australia is known as a U.S. ally."

Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda's leader, has called on his followers to attack Australia. Of the 202 people who died in Bali in a pair of nightclub bombings there in 2002, 88 were Australians.

Members of Jemaah Islamiah resent Australia for assisting Indonesian police in the capture of dozens of suspects in the Bali bombings, the source said. They are angry over Australia's contribution of troops to the U.S. war effort in Iraq. And they blame Australia for East Timor's success in gaining independence from predominantly Muslim Indonesia in 2002.

In Australia, Howard is unlikely to suffer politically from the attack and might even gain in the polls, given the small number of Australian casualties. He and his rival, Labor Party leader Mark Latham, both condemned the attack in harsh terms.

"This is not a nation that is going to be intimidated by acts of terrorism," Howard said.

The bombing is likely to have little effect on the Indonesian presidential campaign, predicted Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, and an expert on Jemaah Islamiah.

Both candidates, President Megawati Sukarnoputri and former security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, have taken a tough stance against terrorism and condemned Thursday's attack in similar language.

Megawati cut short a trip to Brunei and returned to Jakarta to inspect the bombing site and visit hospitalized victims.

"Let us all condemn what has been done ... ," Megawati said. "I ask all the Indonesian people to unite in fighting terrorism."

Radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged leader of Jemaah Islamiah who is in jail awaiting trial on terrorism charges, condemned the bombing, his lawyer said.

The alleged bomb maker, Azahari, who has been dubbed "Demolition Man" by the Malaysian media, is one of the few key Jemaah Islamiah suspects in the Bali bombings who has not been caught. Police say the former university lecturer, who studied in Australia and Britain, is frequently on the move but has stayed mainly in Indonesia.

Police believe that in addition to building the bombs used in Bali, he made the car bomb for last year's attack on the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, which killed 12 people.

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Sudarsono reported from Jakarta and Paddock from Kuwait City.

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