Jakarta bomb targets Australian embassy

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The Independent Online

A powerful car bomb exploded near the Australian embassy in Jakarta today, killing eight people and leaving nearly 160 wounded, witnesses and police said.

A powerful car bomb exploded near the Australian embassy in Jakarta today, killing eight people and leaving nearly 160 wounded, witnesses and police said.

No one inside the heavily fortified embassy was hurt in the blast, said Lyndall Sachs, a spokeswoman for the Australian foreign ministry in Canberra.

A senior police officer who asked not to be identified said three policemen guarding the building were among the eight people who died.

Many of the wounded were carried to the nearby Metropolitan Medical Centre, which itself had dozens of windows blown out by the explosion.

Inside, dozens of doctors struggled to treat the influx of casualties, most of whom were suffering from cuts from shards of flying glass.

Police chief Gen. Dai Bachtiar said: "Initial investigations show this was a car bomb. We do not know whether anyone was in the car."

Although it was unclear who was responsible, in the past several years Indonesia has been hit by a series of deadly bombings of Western targets by militants belonging to Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian network linked to al-Qa'ida.

Four cars, including a police vehicle, were damaged outside the embassy, and a section of the mission's high metal perimeter fence was flattened. The windows on at least 10 high-rise buildings nearby were smashed.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who was in neighboring Brunei today to attend a royal wedding, cut short her stay and was returning to Jakarta, officials said.

The embassy is located on Rasuna Said street, a main thoroughfare in the Kuningan district housing foreign embassies, businesses and shopping malls. An AP photographer on the scene saw at least three dismembered bodies on the wide six-lane street.

Security officials said an Indonesian guard manning a post outside the gate was among those who died in the explosion, which occurred at 10:15 a.m. (0315 GMT).

"The ground shook so hard I fell down. A huge column of white smoke rose up," said Joko Triyanto, a security guard, his arms bleeding from shrapnel wounds.

Sachs said that windows of the embassy were shattered and that power in the building was down. The mission was immediately evacuated in line with standard procedures, she said.

In recent weeks several Western embassies, including those of the United States and Australia, have warned their citizens about possible attacks by Muslim militants.

The US mission today renewed a warning for Americans to stay away from the Kuningan district in which the blast occurred.

Last year, 12 people died in a suicide attack on the JW Marriott hotel in the same district. In 2002, more than two hundred people — including 88 Australians — died in an attack on two nightclubs on the tourist island of Bali.

Both attacks were blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah. More than 150 people have been arrested over those attacks. More than 50 people have been sentenced so far — including three who received the death sentence.

Thursday's bomb blast came during an Australian election campaign in which Canberra's role as a U.S. ally in the war in Iraq has been a key issue.

Howard claims that Australia's role in last year's U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has not raised the country's profile as a potential terror target. But the opposition Labor Party, which is running neck and neck with the government in pre-election polls, disputes that.

The attack also coincided with the Indonesian presidential campaign. Two secular nationalists — the incumbent and her former security minister Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono — are running for the top post in the Sept. 20 ballot.

In Malaysia, security officials said today's bombing may have been the work of Azahari Husin, a British-trained Malaysian engineer who has eluded capture for nearly three years.

Husin, one of Asia's most-wanted men and a member of Jemaah Islamiyah, has been linked to numerous bombings in Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali attack.