Bombers posing as guests bring terror to Jakarta hotels

Author: By Andrew Buncombe, Asia correspondent

The attackers bypassed some of the tightest security in the country to execute
their attack which came after a four-year lull in militant violence in the
world’s largest Muslim nation.

Police said two bombers checked in as guests and managed to smuggle their
devices into room 1808 at the JW Marriott ? the scene of a bombing in 2003 ?
and into the Ritz-Carlton, in Jakarta. At least 18 foreigners were among the
dead and wounded. One of the wounded is believed to be British.

Suspicion fell on the South-east Asian group Jemaah Islamiyah, said to have
links to al-Qa’ida. The group has been blamed for other attacks in
Indonesia, including the 2002 attacks on nightclubs in Bali which killed
more than 200. It has been quiet since 2005 after a number of its members
were arrested. The attack comes a week after President Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono, seen as an ally of the West, was re-elected after promising to
improve security.

Those responsible for the attacks were “cheering with anger and hatred”,
he said. “I am sure most of us are deeply concerned, feel very sorry
and are crying silently, like the way I am feeling.”

In Washington, Barack Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia,
called the attacks “outrageous”. “I strongly condemn the
attacks that occurred this morning in Jakarta, and extend my deepest
condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones.”

The blast at the Marriott happened at 7.45am local time and the explosion at
the Ritz-Carlton, where the Manchester United team were due to stay next
week, occurred two minutes later.

Officials said both devices used high explosives and were set off in the
restaurants at the hotels. The Jakarta police chief, Major-General Wahyono,
said the suspects in the Marriott attack had been staying on the 18th floor,
where undetonated explosives were later found. “There were several
perpetrators,” he said. “They were disguised as guests and stayed
in room 1808.”

Alex Asmasubrata, who had been jogging nearby, told Reuters that he had walked
into the Marriott before emergency services arrived and had seen “bodies
on the ground, one of them had no stomach … It was terrible”.

In the aftermath, guests, some still dressed in white towelling robes, poured
through the chaos of twisted furniture and broken glass to get outside.
Visitors from Britain, the US, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Norway,
South Korea, India and Japan were among more than 50 people injured.

Vidi Tanza helped get the injured into taxis to take them to hospital. He
said: “It was very loud, it was like thunder, it was rather continuous,
and then followed by the second explosion. We heard it from our office.
There was not much panic. Then they realised the explosion was a bomb, so
they scrambled outside.”

Two Australians and a New Zealander were believed to have been killed. There
was confusion about the number of victims. Police said it was too early to
be sure who was responsible but a terrorism analyst, Rohan Gunaratna, said
that despite the government’s crackdown on Jemaah Islamiyah, they were most
likely to be behind the attacks.

“The only group with the intention and capability to mount attacks upon
Western targets is Jemaah Islamiyah,” he said. “[It is] still a
very capable terrorist organisation.”

The national police chief, General Bambang Hendarso Danuri, said that the
design of the bombs closely resembled an unexploded device that had been
found in a house owned by the father-in-law of a Jemaah Islamiyah leader.

By checking in as guests, the bombers appear have been able to smuggle in
their explosives. Indonesia’s TVOne showed CCTV footage of a man claimed to
be the Ritz-Carlton attacker. He was wearing a baseball cap and pulling a
suitcase. It is understood the attackers checked in on Wednesday.

Yanuar, who was working in the lobby at the Marriott, said: “As far as I
know, everybody who enters the hotel undergoes two checks so I thought it
was safe.”

***

Jemaah Islamiyah: Disciples of al-Qa’ida

Q. Hadn’t Indonesia got a hold on terrorism?

A. It had been four years since the last big terror attack in the world’s
most populous Muslim nation. In 2002, militants killed 200 mainly foreign
tourists when they bombed nightclubs on the holiday island of Bali. For the
next three years the attacks kept coming: a 2003 car bombing outside the
Marriott, a 2004 truck bombing outside the Australian embassy, and triple
suicide bombings on Bali restaurants in 2005. But the last few years had
been quiet. The US State Department had recently praised Indonesia’s
counter-terrorism efforts and concluded that its abilities to stave off
attacks had improved considerably, thanks to assiduous policing and a
hardline judiciary.

Q. So who is behind yesterday’s attack?

A. Police are still investigating and no one has claimed responsibility.
But experts agree that the most likely perpetrators are a group connected to
the infamous Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the militant Islamist group behind much
of the terrorist activity that plagued Indonesia in the first half of the
decade. The day before the attacks, an Australian think-tank warned of the
possible emergence of a new splinter group which made a strike in the near
future more likely.

Q. Who are Jemaah Islamiyah and what do they want?

A. The group’s purported goal is the foundation of a pan-Islamic
state across South-east Asia. Thought to have been founded by Indonesian
extremists in exile in Malaysia in the 1980s, JI initially focused on
political means of achieving its goals. A decade later, its leaders embraced
terrorism. Experts say that the catalyst for that change was a new link with
al-Qa’ida. More than 300 members of the group have been arrested since 2002
and its influence was thought to have waned but yesterday’s attack could
signal a resurgence.

Q. Why has the violence erupted again?

A. According to the Australian think-tank report, tensions about the best
way forward among JI’s embattled leadership provided the right conditions
for a new splinter group to form. And the release from prison of former
members, who have since been ostracised by the mainstream group, could have
provided the necessary manpower. The report said: “There is evidence
that some of these individuals are gravitating toward hardline groups who
continue to advocate al-Qa’ida-style attacks against Western targets.”

Q. Are there any other suspects?

A. The Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has adopted a
tough stance on security, believes the attack could have been carried out by
opposition groups angry at his re-election last week.

Archie Bland

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