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Jakarta Blast That Killed 9 Blamed on Muslim Extremists

By Alan Sipress and Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 10, 2004; Page A18

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Sept. 9 -- Investigators blamed Muslim extremists linked to al Qaeda for a car bombing at the Australian Embassy on Thursday that killed at least nine people and injured more than 150, as it flattened vehicles and shattered windows in a portion of the capital's modern business district.

The morning explosion, said by police to be a suicide attack, crushed the embassy's high metal gate and blew out windows in a dozen nearby corporate office towers along Rasuna Said Boulevard. Several blackened bodies were recovered near a smoking crater at the compound's entrance. All of the dead were Indonesian, said Health Minister Achmad Suyudi.

Indonesian workers look through the shattered windows of a building in Jakarta's modern business district, much of which was damaged in the bombing. (Beawiharta -- Reuters)

_____Jakarta Bombing_____
Video: A bombing at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta killed at least eight people.

As they searched for clues in the wreckage, officials blamed Jemaah Islamiah, a regional underground organization that intelligence agencies say is connected to al Qaeda.

Gen. Dai Bachtiar, the national police chief, said the blast resembled the group's previous attacks on two Bali nightclubs in 2002 and the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta a year later, which killed a total of 214 people. He named Malaysian militant Azahari Husin, a British-trained engineer identified as Jemaah Islamiah's chief explosives expert by investigators in several Southeast Asian countries.

"Our suspicion is that it was by the same group, especially the bomb maker, Dr. Azahari. This is what we can conclude from the modus operandi and our investigation," Bachtiar said during an early afternoon visit to the site.

He said authorities have spent months searching for Azahari and fellow Malaysian militant Noordin Mohammed Top throughout Java, Indonesia's main island. He said the men had recently recruited new members.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri cut short a trip to Brunei, where she was attending a royal wedding, and rushed to the scene.

"I ask all Indonesian society to remain calm and be on alert in terms of security," she said after visiting victims at a nearby hospital.

In Melbourne, Australian Prime Minister John Howard expressed dismay at the attack and dispatched Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to Jakarta. A forensics team from the Australian Federal Police also headed to the scene.

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

The attack came six days after the U.S. Embassy warned Americans living in Indonesia that there was heightened danger of a terrorist attack, in particular against foreign-owned hotels. Australia immediately issued a similar caution to its citizens.

Diplomats and security experts had concluded that Muslim extremists had shelved earlier plans to attack embassies because the buildings were well-fortified. Analysts said terrorists would focus instead on what are termed "soft targets," such as hotels, restaurants and shopping centers frequented by foreigners.

"The common wisdom was dashed. They went back and hit what they were originally casing," said Ken Conboy of Risk Management Advisory in Jakarta.

But the Australian Embassy proved to be a formidable target. While the explosion left a crater three yards wide, shattered the windows of passing buses and devastated a parked police truck, no one inside the building was gravely injured, according to Australian officials. Embassy officials said all 85 of their diplomatic staff members were accounted for, as were all but one of their Indonesian employees. An Australian diplomat said the dead were Indonesian police officers and Indonesian guards and gardeners working on contract for the embassy.

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