Deadly car bomb rocks Jakarta

CNN       9/9/04

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- A powerful car bomb has hit central Jakarta near the Australian Embassy, killing at least eight people and wounding about 170 others.

The Thursday morning explosion went off four meters (12 feet) away from the embassy's gate, leaving a crater three meters deep.

CNN Correspondent Maria Ressa said that according to police, the blast was "far larger" than one that killed 12 people in the JW Marriott Hotel in the same district last year.

Indonesia's police chief, Gen.  Dai Bachtiar, put the death toll at eight and said 20 of the wounded were in critical condition.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri returned to Jakarta from Brunei, where she was attending a royal wedding, and toured the bomb site.

Most of Thursday's deaths occurred just outside the 6-meter (20-foot) high steel gate, which was mangled in the blast.

The explosion shattered nearly all the windows in seven surrounding high-rise buildings while offices several blocks away also suffered damage.

Witnesses said they saw a car drive past slowly and then explode.  The blast was so strong it threw one body towards the center of a four-lane highway nearby, and body parts were strewn around the streets.   

Hundreds of police tried to manage a chaotic scene as ambulances, fire trucks, wounded people and bystanders crowded amid the debris of burned-out cars and shattered windows.

Witnesses reported hearing the blast as far as six miles (10 kilometers) away, in the latest of a spate of attacks that has hit the world's fourth most populous nation.

Security officials told The Associated Press an Indonesian guard manning a post outside the gate was among those who died in the explosion, which struck 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.

Three men wearing what appeared to be guard uniforms lay on the ground with bloodied faces, but seemed to be alive, Ressa reported.

The fortress-like Australian Embassy building is on Rasuna Said Road, one of central Jakarta's busiest streets, which is lined with office towers, embassies and hotels.

Video of the blast site showed rescue workers carrying the injured on stretchers to a nearby hospital as helicopters circled overhead.

Police cordoned off the area and sent in a bomb squad to search for more explosive devices.

A series of smaller blasts followed the major explosion, and police set up checkpoints to keep people away from the area in case of further explosions.

Warnings issued

The embassy has been evacuated, with Australian Prime Minister John Howard saying all of the embassy's Australian staff have been accounted for, although some sustained minor injuries.

Several countries, including the United States and Australia, had warned their citizens about possible attacks by militants in recent weeks.

Australia is a close ally of the United States in the Iraq war and the war on terrorism, and it has never suffered a major terrorist attack on home soil.

But 88 Australians were among 202 people killed in the October 2002 in nightclub bombings on the resort island of Bali.

Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a militant group with ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, has been linked to the Bali and JW Marriott attacks.  JI is trying to set up a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia.

No one has claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack, but Bachtiar, Indonesia's police chief, said the all three attacks were perpetrated by the same terrorist network.

"This is certainly a terrorist threat," he said.  "Those groups that committed the crime in Bali and in Jakarta, they have not finished operating.  The suspects are still at large, and we are still searching for them, especially Dr.  Azahari Husin and Nurdin Mohammed Top. "

Husin and Top, two Malaysians, were identified as the key planners of the Marriott attack.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer also said initial suspicions fall on JI.   

The blast was "clearly a terrorist attack" aimed at Australia, local media reported Downer as saying.

Last Friday, Australia warned that "particular caution should be exercised in Jakarta, including the central business and embassy districts," and said that security at its embassy in the capital remained at a high level.

Australians have been warned to defer all non-essential travel to Indonesia.

Jakarta shares fell more than three percent on Thursday morning.