Bali: The grim toll emerges

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The death toll of British victims of the Bali bombing rose to 33 last night with growing evidence that al-Qa'ida and its allies have carried out their most devastating attack since 11 September last year.

The death toll of British victims of the Bali bombing rose to 33 last night with growing evidence that al-Qa'ida and its allies have carried out their most devastating attack since 11 September last year.

The scale of British casualties, out of a total of more than 200, is one of the highest suffered by the UK in a single terrorist attack, and there are fears that numbers may rise due to the severity of the injuries suffered by some of the survivors.

Tony Blair, who will make a Commons statement today, spoke of " the appalling depths to which these extremists will sink". He said terrorism had "once again scarred the world" and the imperative was to "eradicate this evil in our world".

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, left for Washington yesterday afternoon for talks with the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Scotland Yard anti-terrorist officers have flown to Bali to assist in the investigation; they will be joining similar teams from Australia and the United States.

In Washington, President George Bush said one "had to assume" that the attack was work of al-Qa'ida. But he dismissed suggestions that his administration's concentration on Iraq had distracted from pursuing the remnants of the organisation and insisted that preparations for a possible war with Saddam Hussein's regime must continue.

The Indonesian govern-ment of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, which has faced repeated international criticism for not tackling indigenous militant Islamist groups, said it welcomed the offer of help from abroad and promised a thorough investigation.

Arriving at Bali, the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, said: "We have some information, particularly from the Indonesians, that there are links to al-Qa'ida in this terrorist attack."

There has, so far, been no claim of responsibility by al-Qa'ida. A statement allegedly from its leader, Osama bin Laden, which appeared on an Islamic website yesterday, praised an attack on US Marines in Kuwait and on a French tanker off the coast of Yemen earlier this month, but did not mention Bali.

Western security agencies believe that Jamaah Islamiyah, a Muslim fundamentalist group that has links to al-Qa'ida and whose senior members have met Mr bin Laden, was involved in the attack. Yesterday its alleged leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, denied responsibility and claimed the bombing was the work of American agent provocateurs.

British tour operators continued bringing tourists back home, but said many of their clients had chosen to continue with their holidays. With reports from the region claiming further attacks were likely, the Foreign Office repeated its advice to British nationals not to travel to Indonesia unless absolutely necessary. Survivors described how they shone torches into the faces of the dead at the Sari nightclub, where one of the bombs exploded, to see if they were friends and acquaintances.

But the power of the blast, and the intensity of the blaze that followed, means it could be days before there is proper identification and a final death toll.

Families waiting back home yesterday began to learn the fate of those caught in the bombing. The first victim to be named was Marc Gajardo, 30, from Truro, Cornwall. He went out of the nightclub because he did not like the music being played and had walked directly into the path of the blast.

His girlfriend, Hannabeth Luke, 22, who remained in the club and survived, said: "Somehow I managed to climb out through the roof. I was in the street in a complete daze, yelling out my boyfriend's name, but I had a strong feeling he was already dead." Mr Gajardo's father, Ray, said he felt "total hatred" for those who killed "a son who was like a brother to me". Among those missing are six men of the Hong Kong Vandals rugby team, all British expatriates, and two supporters, the Briton Annika Linden, 29, and Bettina Brandes, 28, who is German. The team's general manager.

One survivor, Ian Stafford, a businessman, 41, described how his best friend, Ian Findley, had died after receiving the full force of the explosion. Arriving back yesterday at Newcastle airport, still covered in blood, he said: "Ian saved my life. Without him shielding me from the blast I would almost certainly be dead."

Mr Straw announced today that the relatives of British victims killed in the bomb attacks are to receive financial help to bring their bodies home.

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