Police Say Attacks in Bali Were Suicide Bombings

Indonesian security officials inspect the scene of an explosion at a restaurant in Kuta, about 20 miles from the other blast site in Jimbaran.
Indonesian security officials inspect the scene of an explosion at a restaurant in Kuta, about 20 miles from the other blast site in Jimbaran. (By Bagus Othman -- Reuters)
By Ellen Nakashima and Alan Sipress
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 3, 2005

BALI, Indonesia, Oct. 2 -- Investigators stepped up their efforts Sunday to determine the identity of suicide bombers who attacked three tourist restaurants a day earlier, saying they were looking for clues among tiny pieces of human flesh stuck to explosive material and scattered about the blast sites.

Bali's police chief, I Made Pastika, displayed pictures of the heads of the three suspected suicide bombers at a news conference. He said the men were responsible for the near-simultaneous blasts that killed 22 people, including several foreigners. Estimates of the death toll have varied, with some accounts reporting that 26 or more people were killed.

Pastika also showed an amateur video obtained by police that recorded one bomber, wearing a black shirt, walking into the Raja restaurant in Kuta Square, a popular shopping and dining spot. Seconds later, at 7:45 p.m., the man was obscured by a flash of light and an explosion.

As the police try to identify those responsible for the attacks, some Balinese said they wondered whether any amount of police effort would restore confidence in their island, whose tourism-dependent economy had just begun to rebound after terrorist bombings three years ago that killed 202 people.

"Of course what happened last night will hurt our income, just like the previous bombings," said Yani Kareng, as she waited for customers at her modest food stall on Jimbaran Beach, less than 50 yards from the site of the blast at Cafe Nyoman, a beachfront seafood restaurant. Business dropped by half at her fried rice stand after the 2002 bombings, she said.

"It started to get better only in the last couple of months," she said. "Then this happened."

Many of her customers are local Balinese who work as drivers and tour guides for the foreign tourists patronizing the five-star hotels and restaurants in the area, she said. On this day, her customers included police officers and soldiers who milled around the crime scene, defined by yellow police tape around a strip of outdoor restaurants with dozens of overturned wooden tables and chairs. Half-eaten plates of fish and crab and half-empty mugs of beer still sat on the tables that were left standing.

Hundreds of Balinese, dressed in sarongs and shorts, watched investigators comb the sand for evidence left by the bombers. Some wore white T-shirts inscribed, "[Expletive] Terrorist."

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a quick trip to Bali on Sunday. He said at a news conference that authorities were trying to determine "the people, the cells and the clues supporting this incident to bring them to justice."

Investigators have not established who planned the attacks, but security analysts based in Jakarta said they were probably carried out by Muslim extremists associated with two Malaysian bomb-making experts, Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohammed Top.

"They've got to be at the top of the list of suspects," said Sidney Jones, the Southeast Asia director for the International Crisis Group. "The question is who they would have ended up with as partners."

Jones said her group had received credible information in the last two months that the two Malaysians had formed an armed group, Thoifah Muqatilah, or Combat Unit. But it remained unclear whether this was a new armed wing of Jemaah Islamiah, the underground militant group blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings and two subsequent bombings in Jakarta that killed 23 people, or a separate organization.

The two Malaysians have been working largely outside the Jemaah Islamiah command structure since at least August 2003, when their followers bombed the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Jones said. Many members of the radical Indonesian group believe attacks on civilians represent a misreading of Islam, she said.

Thoifah Muqatilah has been recruiting young Indonesians from outside the Jemaah Islamiah network, Jones said, adding that some were veterans of recent Muslim-Christian conflicts in other parts of the country.

In August, Yudhoyono called on Indonesians to heighten their vigilance because it was suspected that militants were preparing to strike again. But security analysts suggested his remarks were based less on specific intelligence than on the long period of relative calm since the September 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

"It was just a gut feeling they were overdue," said Ken Conboy, country director for Risk Management Advisory Indonesia. "Azahari and Noordin Top would not be biding their time just waiting to get caught."

Pastika, the police chief, said that unlike in the 2002 Bali attacks or the Marriott and embassy bombings, the bombers did not use a car or van to transport explosives. He said police were still investigating what triggered the explosions.

In Jimbaran, a head had been thrown 25 yards from the site of the blast, he said. "We found pieces of torso with explosive material stuck to them, evidence that the explosives had blown the torso apart," he said.

The pictures of the suspected bombers showed that all three were young men. The one who died at the Raja Restaurant was thin, his face clean-shaven with high cheekbones.

I Made Bona, the owner of an art shop, worried about the blasts' impact on business. Bona, 60, who opened his store in 1968, said oil paintings of Balinese landscapes that once went for more than $1,000 sold for $500 after the 2002 attack. Today, he said, "Even if you offer only $300, I'll say, 'Okay!' "

Down the street, Prastyawan Satriawibowo crouched on the sidewalk glumly smoking a cigarette in front of his tour package kiosk. The 33-year-old entrepreneur was forced to close his leather jacket business six months after the 2002 bombings. The tourism kiosk had been bringing him as many as 10 customers a day. But now, he said, business will be "very slow."

Some experts contend that Bali's economy will recover. The attacks Sunday were smaller than last time, said I Gede Pitana, a professor of tourism at Udayana University here and a former chairman of Bali's tourism board. And today, he said, people realize that terrorism can strike anywhere.

Sipress reported from Jakarta. Special correspondent Yayu Yuniar contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company