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.

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.

Downer told reporters after arriving in Jakarta on Thursday night that embassy staff members suffered only minor injuries. He attributed this to recent improvements in embassy security, including reinforcement of the outside wall and installation of shatterproof window glass.

The wounded were overwhelmingly Indonesian, though the Chinese Embassy reported that several of its nationals were also injured, officials said. The only seriously injured Australian was a 5-year-old girl.

Andi Nugroho, 20, a police officer assigned to guard the Australian Embassy, said he had left his usual post at the front gate moments before the explosion.

"This is my luck," said Nugroho, who suffered a bruise above his right eye. "At that moment, I was thirsty, so I went inside to get a drink. All of a sudden something went boom." He said two of his fellow officers were killed.

John Kalangi, 45, a businessman from eastern Indonesia, had been inside with his wife and daughter applying for a visa when he heard the explosion. They covered their heads, then raced from the compound.

"I saw a man on a motorcycle, dead, and body parts all over the road," he said.

At nearby Metropolitan Medical Center -- located so close that the blast blew out many of its windows -- a list was taped to the marble entrance with 105 names of the wounded. Virtually all were Indonesian.

Outside the intensive care unit, Syeh Mabruri, 25, sat in a waiting room, his head and hand bandaged, his blue shirt torn and bloodstained. He had been standing beside the window of his office in a nearby building talking to his boss on a cell phone. The time on the digital display remained frozen at the moment of the explosion: 10:27 a.m.

"I'm so angry at whoever did this," he said. "I also feel angry at the government. This always happens."

The attack came 11 days before Megawati is to face a runoff election against her former chief security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The campaign has been largely peaceful, and until Thursday, terrorism had not figured as an issue.

The bombing also occurred as Indonesian prosecutors were preparing to open a new case against radical cleric Abubakar Baasyir, who has been named by Indonesian and foreign investigators as the head of Jemaah Islamiah.

Police have arrested dozens of Indonesian extremists in the Bali, Marriott and other terrorist incidents, including several captured in recent weeks. Security analysts said these recent arrests may have provided the information that prompted U.S. and Australian officials to release their new warnings.

Bachtiar said Thursday night that investigators had learned from suspects recently captured in central and eastern Java that militants were planning to carry out an attack.

Investigators have previously uncovered plans by Muslim militants to target the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. After the attack on the Australian mission, U.S. Embassy officials instructed some of their staff members to stay home Friday for security reasons, though the building will remain open for business.

Special correspondent Noor Huda Ismail contributed to this report.

Indonesian workers look through the shattered windows of a building in Jakarta's modern business district, much of which was damaged in the bombing.Smoke billows from site of blast outside the Australian Embassy.