Islamic militants take war to Jakarta's streets

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The Independent Online

Three people were killed and more than 20 injured when a large bomb exploded yesterday afternoon at the home of the Philippines ambassador in the centre of Jakarta in a further escalation of the political tension in Indonesia.

Three people were killed and more than 20 injured when a large bomb exploded yesterday afternoon at the home of the Philippines ambassador in the centre of Jakarta in a further escalation of the political tension in Indonesia.

Abdurrahman Wahid, the Indonesian President, immediately suggested that the explosion was connected with the Islamic militants fighting for independence in the Philippines, rather than to the widespread religious and communal violence in the Indonesian provinces.

The explosion appeared to have been aimed at the ambassador, Leonides Caday, whose car was entering the compound of his residence. The Mercedes limousine was torn apart, and the house suffered severe damage in the blast, which blew tiles off roofs on the other side of a busy four-lane highway. Mr Caday was said to be in a stable condition, but his Indonesian driver was critically ill.

At least three bystanders, one of them the owner of a pavement food cart, were killed, their bodies torn to pieces by the blast which resounded through the centre of Jakarta at about 12.30pm. Passing cars crashed in the confusion following the explosion in the expensive Menteng district.

"It is a foreign effort to discredit the Philippines government," said Mr Wahid, who was attending a meeting of political leaders in the ancient capital, Yogyakarta. "It is related to the problems of the southern Philippines."

For decades, Islamic separatists have been fighting for the independence of the southern Philippines province of Mindanao, a conflict which has escalated this year with a growing number of terrorist attacks.

There have been a series of bomb explosions in Philippine shopping centres. The small but violent Abu Sayyaf group continues to hold foreign tourists and local staff kidnapped in May from a diving resort on a Malaysian island.

But a spokesman for the biggest of the Muslim insurgencies, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, denied involvement in the Jakarta bomb. "We don't have any operations in other countries, said Eid Kabalu. "Our targets are the Philippine military and their allies."

Indonesia has plenty of conflicts of its own, from an Islamic separatist movement in the north-western province of Aceh to the war between Muslims and Christians in the Moluccan islands to the east.

Security in Jakarta is being stepped up in advance of next week's meeting of the Consultative People's Assembly, the country's highest legislative body, which meets to pass judgement on Mr Wahid's turbulent nine months in office. The session is expected to be disrupted by both radical students and Muslim conservatives, all unhappy with the pace and direction of political reform.

Why any of these groups would want to attack the Philippines ambassador is unclear. However, there is a widespread conviction in Indonesia that supporters of the former dictator, Suharto, who was forced from power two years ago, are stoking the violence in order to distract government attention from their corruptly acquired wealth and power.

Early last month, a smaller bomb went off and two more were removed from the offices of the attorney general, who is preparing corruption charges against Suharto. The bombs appeared to be of military manufacture, increasing suspicions that hard-line Suharto supporters were behind them.

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