July 18, 2009
Militants Eyed in Indonesian Bombings
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
JAKARTA, Indonesia - The nearly simultaneous suicide bomb attacks at two American hotels on Friday showed that Islamic terrorist groups, though significantly weakened in Indonesia in recent years, still had the means to mount deadly assaults in one of the most heavily secured areas here in Indonesia's capital.
Indonesian officials said it was too early to identify those behind the attacks at the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels, which killed eight people and wounded at least 50. But they appeared to be focusing on domestic militants, possibly individuals or splinter groups loosely tied to Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian terrorist network linked to Al Qaeda.
The attacks were a blow to the Indonesian government, which had been credited with cracking down on Jemaah Islamiyah and for keeping Indonesia free of terrorist attacks since late 2005. The explosions took place nine days after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term, riding a wave of popularity for fighting corruption and restoring a measure of stability.
Mr. Yudhoyono said at a news conference that the "bombings were perpetrated by terrorist groups," but that he could not say whether "these groups are the same ones" behind previous attacks. He said the attacks may have been linked to the electoral campaign, during which threats were made against him.
Jemaah Islamiyah led several attacks against Western-linked sites in Indonesia this decade, including one in 2003 against the same Marriott that was struck Friday. A bombing at a nightclub in Bali killed 202 people in 2002; two years later, a car bomb at the Australian Embassy here killed 9 people.
Many of Jemaah Islamiyah's leaders and foot soldiers have been arrested or executed in recent years, not only in Indonesia, but also in other Southeast Asian countries. But one leader, Noordin Muhammad Top, a Malaysian-born extremist said to be leading a splinter group, remains free and is believed to be in Indonesia.
A senior Indonesian counterterrorism official said that although Jemaah Islamiyah was no longer the force it once was, small groups of militants, some with ties to Mr. Noordin, still operated inside the country. Some had been arrested in the last month, most recently in Cilacap in Central Java, he said.
"They're not linked in a hierarchical way with J. I.," the official said of Jemaah Islamiyah, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the news media. "But they exchange information and expertise. They all maintain the same belief: that there should be an Islamic state with Shariah law in Indonesia."
Some experts said that the Indonesian authorities had underestimated the resilience of Islamic militants, regardless of whether they were officially linked with Jemaah Islamiyah.
In an opinion article published, by coincidence, on Friday in the newspaper The Australian, Noor Huda Ismail, executive director of the International Institute for Peacebuilding in Jakarta, a private organization focusing on security issues, warned that the Indonesian authorities were growing complacent.
Writing with an official at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Mr. Noor said the splintering of Jemaah Islamiyah's leadership, as well as the recent release from prison of former members who had not been properly rehabilitated, had increased the risk of attacks.
In an interview, Mr. Noor said: "At this point, we can't say who was behind today's attacks. But we can say that there was a new pattern today. Before, attacks were carried out by cars containing explosive materials. Today, they attacked from inside the hotels. The terrorists have become more efficient and sophisticated. "
In 2003, a car exploded outside the Marriott here, killing 12 people. Since then, most luxury hotels in Jakarta have erected barricades; guards stationed at hotel entrances typically check inside and underneath cars, while guests usually go through metal detectors. The Marriott and Ritz-Carlton, in a relatively quiet neighborhood of luxury hotels, apartment buildings and embassies, were considered among the safest hotels.
But the suspects behind Friday's attacks registered as guests at the Marriott on Wednesday, occupying Room 1808, where a bomb was found and defused after the morning explosions, Indonesian officials said. The authorities said they had located the bodies of the two suicide bombers but had not identified them yet.
Six people were killed at the Marriott, and two at the Ritz-Carlton, officials said. At least one foreigner, Timothy David Mackay, 62, a New Zealander who was the chief executive of a cement and concrete maker, Holcim Indonesia, was among the dead. Eight Americans were among the more than 50 wounded, officials said.
The first bomb exploded at 7:45 a.m. inside the Marriott's lobby, near a ground-floor restaurant called Syailendra. Images from security cameras showed a man wearing a cap and wheeling a small suitcase before detonating what Widodo Adi Sucipto, the security minister, described as "high explosives,"
Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, who was staying on the ninth floor of the Marriott with his two daughters, said: "The explosion was really hard. The floor was shaking. I knew it was a bomb, especially after I opened the curtains and saw thick black smoke coming up."
Mr. Ikrar said that after he and his daughters rode a packed elevator down to the ground floor, they entered a dark lobby filled with smoke.
"I saw people coming out from the Syailendra restaurant, bleeding, tottering, their clothes torn," he said.
Two minutes after the first blast, an explosion ripped through a second-floor restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, a few hundred yards away across the street.
Alex Asmasubrata, 59, said he was jogging past the Marriott when the first explosion happened.
"I continued jogging, but when I reached the Ritz-Carlton, there was another explosion," Mr. Asmasubrata recalled.
He returned to the Marriott, where hotel workers were carrying out the dead and wounded, he said.
"Another man was tapping his mobile phone" while lying on the ground, Mr. Asmasubrata said. "He was maybe around 50. He was badly injured, too. Maybe he was informing his family."
Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting.
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