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Indonesia: Bomb Rips Through Marriott Hotel In Jakarta Ahead Of Bali Verdict

  • Ron Synovitz

Authorities are investigating an apparent terrorist bombing today at the Marriott Hotel in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. The explosion comes just days before a court is due to hand down a verdict in the trial of suspected Islamic militants accused of killing more than 200 people by planting bombs on the Indonesian resort island of Bali last October.

Prague, 5 August 2 -- Indonesia's Red Cross says a huge explosion at a luxury hotel in Jakarta today killed at least 14 people -- including a Dutch citizen -- and injured more than 140 others.

Indonesian Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil said the explosion at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta was caused by a bomb and was "clearly an act of terrorism."

Police say the blast appears to have occurred in front of the hotel's ground-level lobby and reception area, where cars had been allowed to drive up with guests. Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso suggested a suicide bomber may have driven a car bomb in front of the reception area.

The blast shattered the glass windows of the hotel's facade, spraying guests with glass shards. But the main structure of the 35-story hotel tower remained intact.

Nearby buildings of foreign companies and diplomatic representations also sustained severe damage. Among them, in the adjacent Rajawali building, were the embassies of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. But officials say staff at those embassies were not injured.

A hotel employee injured by today's explosion, who identified himself as Oscar, told Reuters what he saw happen: "I work at the hotel restaurant and the front of the hotel restaurant was all damaged and all the windows were shattered and it hit the people. I was near the lobby. I was coming out of the toilet and I heard the explosion and I believe it was from the car park and it hit two buildings. There is another office building right next to the hotel."

Hotel guest Jaganathan Nadeson said he looked out of his window on the 22nd floor moments after the blast and saw a vehicle engulfed in flames -- apparently the car carrying the bomb -- in front of the hotel.

Australian tourist Simon Leuning said he had just arrived in Jakarta from Perth and was relaxing in his room at the hotel when the explosion blew in his windows and threw him across the room. Leuning said he and a friend ran outside as quickly as they could. "There was a lot of fire and all the taxi drivers and their taxis were on fire [in front of the hotel.] A couple of the drivers didn't make it there. And there were a couple of other drivers [who were badly injured]. We carried one of them out [of danger]. He was stuck in the bushes. We found him in the bushes and he was alive, so we carried him out," he said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast. But authorities in Indonesia have been warning of possible attacks by the Southeast Asian terrorist network Jamaah Islamiyah since nightclub bombings on the resort island of Bali last October killed 202 people.

Jamaah Islamiyah has been linked to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network. Just four days ago, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri said in a state-of-the-nation address that she would "dismantle the terrorist network to its roots."

Indonesian courts are now hearing cases against alleged members of Jamaah Islamiyah charged with planting the Bali bombs. Among them is the influential Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who is accused of leading the Jemaah Islamiah network in a series of terrorist attacks.

On 7 August, a court in Bali is expected to deliver its first verdict in the Bali cases. Suspect Amrozi bin Nurhasyim faces a possible death sentence if found guilty.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said today that Australian investigators in Indonesia as part of a continuing probe into the Bali blasts already have arrived at the scene of today's explosion.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer confirmed that the attack could be linked to the Bali bombings. "I'm just getting the intelligence agencies to recheck, but to the best of my knowledge we didn't have any specific information in relation to the Marriott Hotel," Downer said. "Of course, we've been concerned about possible attacks and our travel adviser has warned Australians to defer all nonessential travel to Indonesia and has also warned of the possibility of terrorist attacks [on targets] including international hotels."

Washington warned last week that the Al-Qaeda network was planning new suicide hijackings and bombings in the United States and abroad.

The Marriott Hotel in Jakarta is part of a U.S.-owned and operated chain of luxury hotels that spans the globe. Located in Jakarta's business district, it has been a popular place for Westerners in Indonesia's expatriate business community since it opened in September of 2001. The nearby U.S. Embassy has used the hotel for diplomatic receptions during the past two years celebrating U.S. Independence Day.

The hotel also is less than 2 kilometers from the headquarters of multinational corporations like Exxon-Mobil Oil, General Electric, Motorola, and Procter & Gamble.