Thirteen dead, many injured in bombing of Jakarta hotel

A car bomb ripped through the American-owned JW Marriott hotel in the business district of Jakarta on Tuesday, killing at least 10 people and leaving more than 70 injured, police said.

The mid-afternoon blast tore apart a restaurant and part of the lobby of the five-star hotel in the Auningang district of the Indonesian capital which is home to many foreign embassies and businesses.

Indonesian Defence Minister Matori Abdul Jalil condemned the blast as a “terrorist attack”, but said it was too early to point the finger at the Jemaah Islamiyah group blamed for last year’s carnage in Bali and other bombings.

Police said 10 people had been confirmed dead and 74 others injured in the explosion, which left the facade of the 33-storey building spewing thick black smoke. Witnesses said at least three of the fatalities were foreigners.

“The blast was caused by a car bomb,” National Police Detective Chief Erwin Mappaseng said at the scene, as firefighters battled with flames leaping from several vehicles in front of the hotel.

National Police Chief General Da’Bachtiar said the bomb was in a locally-made “Kijang” van, but that despite the presence of body parts near the van wreckage it was not yet known if it was a suicide attack.

Blood and pieces of skin stained the ground after the explosion sparked an intense fire inside the structure. A large hole was visible immediately in front of the plaza.

The blast comes just two days before a court is due to hand down the first verdict in the trials of alleged Jemaah Islamiyah militants accused of the Bali attack on October 12 last year which left 202 dead, mostly foreign tourists.

Share prices on the Jakarta stock exchange plunged more than three percent after the explosion at the hotel, which staged the US embassy’s July 4 celebrations this year and was a popular venue for the American community.

The badly-burned bodies of two people lay on the driveway in front of the office building next to the Marriott waiting for an ambulance to carry them away, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Witnesses described a huge bang followed by chaotic scenes.

“One of my windows was shattered by the force and I live on the 30th floor.
We took the staircase to descend,” said Madina Sar-Diarra, who lives in an apartment on top of the hotel.

“It was a panic and once downstairs, I saw several injured people, especially cooks of the restaurant, covered in blood.”

Window panels in the hotel and next door Rajali Tower were shattered for several floors. Flames could be seen burning from the ground floor of the hotel and from at least eight cars in front of the hotel lobby.

He said foreigners were among eight people he saw who were seriously wounded and brought to waiting ambulances.

The area was closed to the public as crowds gathered at the scene, while the hotel’s main telephone went unanswered.

A police radio held by one officer at the scene was overheard broadcasting a message that there were three blasts. The first explosion was at the Mutiara Plaza, the shopping mall next to the hotel, it said.

Trials of the Bali suspects on the resort island have been told that Jemaah Islamiyah received money from the Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, and terrorism analysts say the two groups have close links.

Jemaah Islamiyah wants to set up a pan-Islamic state stretching across Southeast Asia. Scores of JI followers have been arrested in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The explosion also comes as the trial of the alleged leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, was due to reopen in Jakarta.

He is accused of plotting to assassinate current President Megawati Sukarnoputri before she took office and of involvement in a series of bombings against churches. - Sapa-AFP

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