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Indonesia: Bombing Near Australian Embassy In Jakarta Kills At Least Seven

Attention in the war on terrorism shifted to Indonesia today, where a car bomb killed at least seven people near the Australian Embassy. There's been no formal claim of responsibility, although suspicions have fallen on Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant group linked to Al-Qaeda that has carried out dozens of bombings in Indonesia in recent years. The attack is sure to unnerve Australians, who see their country as a prime target for Southeast Asian-based militants.

9 September 2004 -- Islamic militants are being blamed for a powerful car bomb that exploded today outside the Australian Embassy in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. The blast killed at least seven people and injured around 100. Casualty figures are expected to rise.

The blast damaged a metal fence around the embassy and shattered windows, but Australian Prime Minister John Howard said no Australian staff members were killed or injured. "The latest information I have, both from the secretary of my own department and from a personal conversation with the Australian ambassador in Jakarta, David Ritchie, is that all of the Australian staff have been accounted for," he said.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri pledged to hunt down the perpetrators. She cut short a trip to Brunei and later toured the bomb site.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility, although suspicion has fallen on the Islamic terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah. That's the opinion of Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who described the explosion as a terrorist attack directed against Australia. "We don't know who was responsible for the explosion. It could take a bit of time to establish that, as is often the case. Naturally, our suspicions turn to Jemaah Islamiyah," he said.

Jemaah Islamiyah, an Islamic extremist group linked to Al-Qaeda, has staged more than 50 bomb attacks across Indonesia over the past five years. Those include the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta a year ago that killed 12 people and the Bali Island bombing two years ago that killed more than 200, including 89 Australians.

Today's car bombing came two days before the third anniversary of the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States and ahead of the 20 September presidential elections in Indonesia and 9 October polls in Australia.

It is unclear whether the attack was timed in any way to coincide with the elections. A terrorist bombing in March in the Spanish capital, Madrid, came just days before general elections there and may have contributed to the defeat of the pro-U.S. government in power.

Today's car bombing followed fresh warnings from the United States and Australia that militants may strike again in Indonesia. "We had some advice a few days ago of a possible terrorist attack in Jakarta, focusing on Western-style hotels, and we changed our travel advisory to take that into account," Downer said.

He said the warnings did not include specific references to the embassy itself, although he said there have long been such concerns.

Indonesian Police Chief General Da'i Bachtiar said today the embassy bombing bears a strong resemblance to both the Marriott and Bali attacks, and he confirmed that Jemaah Islamiyah is a prime suspect.

Correspondents say the Indonesian authorities have had some success in curbing the militant group's activities. Jemaah Islamiyah's former operations chief, Hambali, is in U.S. custody after being arrested last year in Thailand. Its alleged spiritual head, Abu Bakar Bashir, faces charges related to the Marriott attack.

But two important figures in the organization, Malaysian nationals Noordin Mohammad Top and Azahari Husin, remain free. Azahari is believed to be the technical mastermind behind the Marriott and Bali bombings.

(compiled from agency reports)

For the latest news on the U.S.-led War on Terror, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The War on Terror".