Latest attack threatens Bali tourism

Attacks are a blow to industry that provides 80% of nation's revenue

October 09, 2005|By RICHARD C. PADDOCK | RICHARD C. PADDOCK,LOS ANGELES TIMES

KUTA, Indonesia -- The island of Bali, with miles of beaches and perfect waves, has long been marketed as a premier destination for tourists. Now, this surfer's paradise has a new distinction: repeat terrorist target.

The deadly assault on three restaurants in Bali a week ago was the second time in three years that suicide bombers targeted the otherwise peaceful and isolated island. This time, some residents fear, Bali's tourism industry might not quickly recover.

More than 200 people have been killed in terrorist attacks on the island simply for being in a nightclub or a restaurant on a Saturday evening. Most of the victims were foreign tourists.

"People come here from all over the world, so the terrorists wanted to show the world their power by bombing Bali twice," said Nyoman Adi Wiratama, who works in a clothing shop near two nightclubs that were blown up in 2002 and a restaurant that was bombed Oct. 1.

Bali has been so successful in promoting its identity as a tourist destination that many people in other parts of the world don't realize it is part of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country.

The island of 4 million people is predominantly Balinese Hindu. Authorities believe the latest attack, like the earlier bombings, was carried out by Islamic extremists.

On Friday, Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla called on Muslim leaders to condemn suicide bombings as a practice that is not in line with Islam.

"Suicide bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq are perhaps understandable because there is an `opponent' there," he said in an apparent reference to U.S.-led forces in both countries. "But here in Indonesia, it makes no sense. Why do they kill their own people, who have done nothing wrong?"

Bali derives about 80 percent of its revenue from tourism, industry officials say. The island's economy suffered a serious blow when visitors stopped coming after nightclub bombings killed 202 people in Kuta, a crowded beach town with narrow streets full of small shops, restaurants and bars.

Tourists gradually returned to Bali, and business had almost recovered by this year when the terrorists struck again with the restaurant attacks, which killed 22 people, including the three bombers, in Kuta and Jimbaran Beach, another popular holiday spot 18 miles south.

Some tourism officials worry that the latest attack will be more damaging to the visitor industry, even though the death toll was much lower.

"The number of victims is smaller but the impact is greater because it happened for the second time," said Ben Sukma, chairman of the travel agents association of Indonesia. "We believe it will take longer to recover than from the first bombing."

Terrorism experts believe that a militant faction of Jemaah Islamiyah is behind the restaurant bombings. The extremist Muslim group, which was closely tied to al-Qaida before the arrest of figures of both organizations, was responsible for the 2002 nightclub attacks, the 2003 bombing of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta and the 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

Richard C. Paddock writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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