Friday, September 10, 2004

Embassy Blast Bears Familiar Fingerprints

By Andreas Harsono

JAKARTA, Sep. 10, 2004 (IPS) -- Indonesian security officials are coming to terms with the possibility that the same organisation, alleged to have been involved in previous bombings in the world's largest Muslim country, might have been responsible for the detonation of a powerful car bomb outside the Australian embassy, here that killed at least nine people.

Indonesian police are already suggesting that the chief suspects are men they were already pursuing for past bombings in the tourist resort of Bali in 2002, that killed 202 mostly Australian tourists, and around the corner at Jakarta's JW Marriott hotel in August last year that killed 12 people.

On Thursday morning, just an hour before the blast, the country's police chief Da'i Bachtiar was meeting with a parliamentary commission where he was briefing them about his attempt to arrest master bombers Azahari Husin and Noor Din Mohammad Top.

Half way during his briefing, an aide approached him and whispered something into his ear.

Bachtiar frowned and asked the commission to adjourn the hearing, saying that a bomb had just exploded some minutes earlier outside the Australian embassy.

"My men will take care of that but it just shows us how dangerous it is to have people like them on the run," added the police chief.

Azahari and Top are two Malaysian citizens allegedly involved in producing the deadly bombs that were detonated in Bali and near Jakarta's J.W. Marriot hotel.

Bachtiar's men have arrested most of the bombers and Indonesian judges have also sentenced three of them to death.

But Azahari and Top, who are allegedly linked to the Jemaiah Islamiyah (JI) - a regional network that aims to create a pan- Islamic state in South-east Asia and which several governments have classified as a terrorist organisation - managed to narrowly escape twice the dragnet set up by Indonesian police.

"We could see similarities between this bombing and the car bombs that exploded in Bali and the Marriot," Bachtiar told reporters late Thursday.

"But it is still too early to prove that Jemaiah Islamiyah is behind this bombing although there is possibly of a suicide bomber here like the others," he added.

On Friday morning, Suyitno Landung, head of Indonesia's police criminal investigation department, told a local radio station that witnesses had seen a green Daihatsu Zebra car explode right in front of the gates of the Australian embassy.

"It exploded right away so we have assumed the perpetrator was still in the car," Landung told the 'El Shinta' radio station.

Suicide bombers, allegedly from Jemaiah Islamiyah, were also used in the Bali and the JW Marriott hotel blasts.

Some governments and certain intelligence agencies claim a connection between Jemaiah Islamiyah and al-Qaeda and allege the Islamic regional grouping's members had trained with al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan.

"Islamic militants who have been arrested recently said that there were three men who were ready to become suicide bombers," Landung said.

According to latest estimates at least 173 people were injured in Thursday's bombing, though an Australian embassy spokesman said no one was killed or hurt badly inside the embassy's heavily fortified compound.

The nine dead included policemen, embassy security guards and passers-by - all Indonesians. The wounded were mainly people who worked nearby the Australian embassy and were cut by flying glass and debris.

"It was an enormous bomb. The enormity of the crater...the police truck outside has been blown to's like the wind has been pushed out of you," embassy media officer Elizabeth O'Neill told Australia's 'Nine TV Network'.

Meanwhile Prime Minister John Howard said Friday he did not know if a statement on an Arabic web site claiming that Jemaiah Islamiyah is responsible for the bombing of his country's embassy in Jakarta is genuine.

The statement describes Australia as "one of the worst enemies of God" and says the bombing is a martyr operation carried out to settle accounts. Australia has about 850 troops in and around Iraq and was the first country, apart from the United States and Britain, to contribute forces for the invasion of Iraq last year.

Howard said he could not verify the statement, adding: "I don't know whether that is a genuine message from Jemaiah Islamiyah or not." "Sometimes these web site messages turn out to be fraudulent."

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Marty Natalagawa, expressed his shock over the embassy blast when he spoke to reporters.

"This is an attack not only against Australian society, Australian government - since the target was obviously the Australian embassy it seems - but also an attack on all of us -- on decent people and civilised governments, nations," he said.

"This is not about Australia. This is not about Indonesia. This is about all those decent people who just want to get on with their life without having to fear this type of heinous, cowardly act on the part of the terrorists," added Natalagawa.

Added the Foreign Ministry spokesman: We as a government have been extremely dedicated in trying to combat the threat of terror and yet again we have to suffer this attack earlier this morning."

"It's all about resilience I think. But we'll pick ourself up and go after these people."

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