Bombers posing as guests bring terror to Jakarta hotels

Eight killed and dozens wounded after series of blasts in Indonesian capital

The luxurious peace of two of Indonesia's most popular tourist hotels was shattered yesterday when suicide bombers posing as guests killed eight and wounded dozens more in co-ordinated blasts that have triggered fears of a new wave of Islamic militancy.

The attackers bypassed some of the tightest security in the country to execute their attack which came after a four-year lull in militant violence in the world's largest Muslim nation.

Police said two bombers checked in as guests and managed to smuggle their devices into room 1808 at the JW Marriott – the scene of a bombing in 2003 – and into the Ritz-Carlton, in Jakarta. At least 18 foreigners were among the dead and wounded. One of the wounded is believed to be British.

Suspicion fell on the South-east Asian group Jemaah Islamiyah, said to have links to al-Qa'ida. The group has been blamed for other attacks in Indonesia, including the 2002 attacks on nightclubs in Bali which killed more than 200. It has been quiet since 2005 after a number of its members were arrested. The attack comes a week after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, seen as an ally of the West, was re-elected after promising to improve security.

Those responsible for the attacks were "cheering with anger and hatred", he said. "I am sure most of us are deeply concerned, feel very sorry and are crying silently, like the way I am feeling."

In Washington, Barack Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, called the attacks "outrageous". "I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred this morning in Jakarta, and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones."

The blast at the Marriott happened at 7.45am local time and the explosion at the Ritz-Carlton, where the Manchester United team were due to stay next week, occurred two minutes later.

Officials said both devices used high explosives and were set off in the restaurants at the hotels. The Jakarta police chief, Major-General Wahyono, said the suspects in the Marriott attack had been staying on the 18th floor, where undetonated explosives were later found. "There were several perpetrators," he said. "They were disguised as guests and stayed in room 1808."

Alex Asmasubrata, who had been jogging nearby, told Reuters that he had walked into the Marriott before emergency services arrived and had seen "bodies on the ground, one of them had no stomach ... It was terrible".

In the aftermath, guests, some still dressed in white towelling robes, poured through the chaos of twisted furniture and broken glass to get outside. Visitors from Britain, the US, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Norway, South Korea, India and Japan were among more than 50 people injured.

Vidi Tanza helped get the injured into taxis to take them to hospital. He said: "It was very loud, it was like thunder, it was rather continuous, and then followed by the second explosion. We heard it from our office. There was not much panic. Then they realised the explosion was a bomb, so they scrambled outside."

Two Australians and a New Zealander were believed to have been killed. There was confusion about the number of victims. Police said it was too early to be sure who was responsible but a terrorism analyst, Rohan Gunaratna, said that despite the government's crackdown on Jemaah Islamiyah, they were most likely to be behind the attacks.

"The only group with the intention and capability to mount attacks upon Western targets is Jemaah Islamiyah," he said. "[It is] still a very capable terrorist organisation."

The national police chief, General Bambang Hendarso Danuri, said that the design of the bombs closely resembled an unexploded device that had been found in a house owned by the father-in-law of a Jemaah Islamiyah leader.

By checking in as guests, the bombers appear have been able to smuggle in their explosives. Indonesia's TVOne showed CCTV footage of a man claimed to be the Ritz-Carlton attacker. He was wearing a baseball cap and pulling a suitcase. It is understood the attackers checked in on Wednesday.

Yanuar, who was working in the lobby at the Marriott, said: "As far as I know, everybody who enters the hotel undergoes two checks so I thought it was safe."

***

Jemaah Islamiyah: Disciples of al-Qa'ida

Q. Hadn't Indonesia got a hold on terrorism?

A. It had been four years since the last big terror attack in the world's most populous Muslim nation. In 2002, militants killed 200 mainly foreign tourists when they bombed nightclubs on the holiday island of Bali. For the next three years the attacks kept coming: a 2003 car bombing outside the Marriott, a 2004 truck bombing outside the Australian embassy, and triple suicide bombings on Bali restaurants in 2005. But the last few years had been quiet. The US State Department had recently praised Indonesia's counter-terrorism efforts and concluded that its abilities to stave off attacks had improved considerably, thanks to assiduous policing and a hardline judiciary.

Q. So who is behind yesterday's attack?

A. Police are still investigating and no one has claimed responsibility. But experts agree that the most likely perpetrators are a group connected to the infamous Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the militant Islamist group behind much of the terrorist activity that plagued Indonesia in the first half of the decade. The day before the attacks, an Australian think-tank warned of the possible emergence of a new splinter group which made a strike in the near future more likely.

Q. Who are Jemaah Islamiyah and what do they want?

A. The group's purported goal is the foundation of a pan-Islamic state across South-east Asia. Thought to have been founded by Indonesian extremists in exile in Malaysia in the 1980s, JI initially focused on political means of achieving its goals. A decade later, its leaders embraced terrorism. Experts say that the catalyst for that change was a new link with al-Qa'ida. More than 300 members of the group have been arrested since 2002 and its influence was thought to have waned but yesterday's attack could signal a resurgence.

Q. Why has the violence erupted again?

A. According to the Australian think-tank report, tensions about the best way forward among JI's embattled leadership provided the right conditions for a new splinter group to form. And the release from prison of former members, who have since been ostracised by the mainstream group, could have provided the necessary manpower. The report said: "There is evidence that some of these individuals are gravitating toward hardline groups who continue to advocate al-Qa'ida-style attacks against Western targets."

Q. Are there any other suspects?

A. The Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has adopted a tough stance on security, believes the attack could have been carried out by opposition groups angry at his re-election last week.

Archie Bland

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