Indonesia hunts Bali bomb suspects

Indonesian police on Monday were hunting the suspects who helped suicide bombers attack the resort of Bali, leaving at least 19 dead and raising fears of more violence from Islamic militants.

Authorities said Saturday’s carnage bore the hallmarks of a group linked to al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), that has waged a bloody campaign against Western interests since 1999, including bombings on Bali three years ago.

Police showed grisly photographs of the detached heads of the presumed attackers after they strapped themselves with explosives and blew up three restaurants full of tourists and locals on Saturday night.

In addition to the dead the bombings left more than 120 people wounded, many of them seriously, after the attackers apparently packed their bombs with ball bearings to inflict maximum pain and injury.

‘Demolition Man’

Bali police chief I Made Mangku Pastika said at least three other people were involved in planning the coordinated, simultaneous attacks.

“There are those who planned it, there were those making the arrangements, those preparing the bombs,” Pastika said. “Those are the ones we must search for.”

Officials said similarities with the 2002 Bali nightclub attacks that killed 202 people pointed to the handiwork of Azahari Husin, an expert bomb-maker from Malaysia known as the “Demolition Man”.

Azahari and another Malaysian fugitive, Noordin Mohammad Top, are two of Asia’s most wanted men said to be the radical masterminds behind JI, which wants to carve out an Islamic state across Southeast Asia.

As forensics teams combed beaches and sifted through the wreckage on Monday, officials gave different death tolls from the attacks.

Information officials at Sanglah, the main hospital treating the victims, said the death toll had risen to 27. Pastika said on Sunday night that 22 had been killed, and did not specify if that figure included the three attackers.

Experts say the bombings showed that the JI still has the power to strike despite a crackdown that has seen dozens of militants jailed.

The attacks also cast a pall over tourism in Bali, Indonesia’s top tourist destination, which was just starting to recover from the attacks three years ago that killed scores of foreigners, including 88 Australians.

With wreaths of mourning planted on the island’s golden sands, Bali’s previously bustling restaurants and bars had once again grown eerily silent.

“It’s quiet,” said Dewa Selamat from the Maxi Garden restaurant.

“Hopefully it will just be like this for a few days.”

Australian Prime Minister John Howard rejected suggestions that the attacks were aimed at his country, a staunch ally in the United States “war on terror” whose tourists regularly flock to Bali.

He said the bombings were a bid to undermine Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who represented “a threat to Islamic extremism”.

“[Yudhoyono] is the democratic, moderate face of Islam and he’s somebody therefore who should be supported and helped, and the terrorists know that and they want to undermine him,” Howard said.

But Australia repeated its warning against travelling to Bali and said further attacks were possible.

“These are not mandatory orders.
What I would say to Australians is read the travel advisory,” Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.

Australia’s police commissioner Mick Keelty said that members of his force were already in Bali to take part in the investigation.

The joint Indonesian-Australian investigation into the Bali bombings three years ago was considered highly successful, leading to the arrest and conviction of virtually an entire network of conspirators.

Downer meanwhile said as many as four Australians may have been killed in the blasts. Hospital officials have confirmed that one Australian and one Japanese were among the dead.

But 14 Indonesians were killed and another 83 were wounded, showing the victims were overwhelmingly locals.

Of the other 39 wounded, there were 20 Australians, six Americans, three Japanese, seven South Koreans, a German, a French citizen, and one unidentified person, hospital officials said.

Downer said the death toll among Australians could still rise, and said seven of the wounded had very serious injuries.

“I’m told there were some very serious abdominal injuries,” Australian Health Minister Tony Abbott said.

“These bombs were apparently packed with ball bearings and shards of metal. Some [victims] were scarred right over their bodies,” he said.

A video released by Indonesian police showed one of the presumed suicide bombers calmly walking across one of the restaurants and back toward the kitchen. Seconds later came the boom of an explosion, and then screams.

‘They are enemies of humanity’

Indonesia’s press on Monday condemned the bombings as “savage” and warned they could further damage the country’s economy, which is already struggling with soaring global oil prices.

“They, the perpetrators of the bombings, are savage. They are enemies of humanity. They are our common enemies, regardless of our religion or ethnicity,” the Muslim-oriented Republika daily said in an editorial.

The newspaper said Saturday’s bombings targeting tourist-packed restaurants in Bali’s Kuta and Jimbaran resorts could again scare off foreign visitors and investors.

“This will worsen our country’s economy, which is in dire straits because of rising fuel prices,” it said.

The Koran Tempo daily said the fall-out from the bombings could be far-reaching.

“Things will become more complicated after fuel price hikes and soaring prices. Tourists are fleeing and foreign investors will not set their eyes on [Indonesia],” it said.

On Saturday the government more than doubled fuel prices as part of a policy to cut fuel subsidies that were devouring one-fifth of Indonesia’s annual budget, triggering nationwide protests.

Kompas daily said that even relatively small attacks, not on the scale of the October 2002 Bali bombings, would reinforce Indonesia’s reputation as a dangerous place.

“We are worried that after so many bombing attacks, we have let down our guard,” Kompas said. “With so many lives lost, we have become numb and apathetic.”

Koran Tempo and Republika warned authorities against making a premature conclusion and pointing fingers at a group before evidence is presented.

“We remind everybody—the government, security authorities, religious leaders and members of the public—not to carelessly link the bombings to a certain religion or group,” Republika said.

“The perpetrators of the blasts must be prosecuted and receive maximum punishment.”

Indonesia can take solace in the fact that no one is immune from terrorism, Pikiran Rakyat newspaper said.

“Indonesians should not be feeling pessimistic because of this incident. No matter how organised an early warning system is, a terror attack can still take place,” it said, pointing to deadly blasts in London this year. - Sapa-AFP

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