Bali bomber sought in Jakarta strike

9 killed, 170 injured as car bomb explodes by Australian Embassy

September 10, 2004|By Sari Sudarsono and Richard C. Paddock | Sari Sudarsono and Richard C. Paddock,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JAKARTA, Indonesia - As the death toll in yesterday's bombing of the Australian Embassy climbed to nine, police intensified their hunt for the man they believe is the master bomb-builder behind the attack: a Malaysian mathematician named Dr. Azahari bin Husin.

Police said the car bomb, which injured more than 170 people, was the work of the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist network and its explosives expert, Azahari, who allegedly constructed bombs used in the group's earlier attacks in Bali and Jakarta. Those blasts killed 214 people.

"From our analysis, the bomb-maker is Dr. Azahari," said the national police chief, Dai Bachtiar, within hours of the embassy blast. "Dr. Azahari has the expertise. He has the ability. That's why our main target is to capture him."

The explosion in central Jakarta left a scene of devastation outside the embassy gate. Corpses and body parts were scattered in the street. Cars and motorcycles were damaged or destroyed. Part of the gate was flattened. Hundreds of windows in nearby buildings were shattered. The explosion was heard nine miles away.

Police said Australians were the intended target, but nearly all of the victims were Indonesians, including several guards and police officers protecting the embassy.

At least two of the dead were passers-by. One was a 32-year- old man riding by on a motorcycle. Another was a young woman whose 5-year-old daughter was seriously injured by the blast. The girl remains in a coma.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard told reporters the bomb exploded 12 feet from the embassy gate.

Australian officials said no embassy workers were seriously hurt. A dozen suffered minor injuries, mostly from flying glass. Security precautions and fortification of the embassy apparently prevented serious damage to the building and people inside.

Jemaah Islamiyah claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on an Islamic Web site, saying it was punishing Australia for supporting the war in Iraq.

Australia and Indonesia are to hold national elections within the next month, but experts on Jemaah Islamiyah said the bombing was more likely motivated by a desire to attack Australia rather than to affect the outcome of either vote.

"I think this is long-standing revenge," said a source familiar with the inner workings of the group, which is closely tied to al-Qaida. "Their targets are the places of foreigners. Australia is known as a U.S. ally."

Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida's leader, has urged his followers to attack Australia. Of the 202 who died in the Bali nightclub bombing, 88 were Australians.

Members of Jemaah Islamiyah resent Australia for assisting Indonesian police in the capture of dozens of suspects in the Bali bombing, the source said. They are angry at Australia's contribution of troops for the U.S.-led war in Iraq. And they blame Australia for East Timor's success in gaining independence from predominantly Muslim Indonesia in 2002.

In Australia, Howard is unlikely to suffer politically from the attack and might even gain in the polls, given the small scale of Australian casualties. He and his rival, Labor Party leader Mark Latham, condemned the attack.

"This is not a nation that is going to be intimidated by acts of terrorism," Howard said. "We are a strong, robust democracy."

The bombing is likely to have little effect on the Indonesian presidential campaign, said Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels, Belgium-based think tank, and an expert on Jemaah Islamiyah.

Both candidates, President Megawati Sukarnoputri and former Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, have taken a tough stance against Islamic violence and condemned yesterday's attack.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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