JAKARTA // Bomb attacks on two luxury hotels in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, yesterday have raised fears of a return of instability to the world's largest Muslim country after a few years of calm. At least nine people were killed and more than 50 others injured, many of them foreigners, when powerful explosions ripped through the tightly guarded JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels during the busy breakfast time, police said.
It was the first major attack in Indonesia since October 2005, when Islamic militants carrying backpack bombs blew themselves up at three restaurants in the resort island of Bali, killing 20 people, mostly Indonesians. Police said they believed the near simultaneous attacks were carried out by suicide bombers and the plotters had checked in as guests and smuggled explosives into the hotels. A bomb-disposal squad found and defused an unexploded bomb in a room of the Marriott after the blasts.
Facades of both hotels were reduced to twisted metal and witnesses described chaotic scenes. "I was having breakfast with a business partner when I heard a strong blast," said Daniel Tumiwa, an executive for a cigarette company, who was not injured in the explosion. "I saw lots of blood, debris, smoke and broken glass everywhere. People were screaming "Help! Help!" It was utter chaos." One New Zealander was confirmed dead and the Australian government said it feared for three Australians still listed as missing.
The hotel bombings came just over a week after the July 9 presidential election, in which the incumbent, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, looks set to win a second five-year term. Final results will not be available until later this month. Andy Wijoyanto, a security analyst at the University of Indonesia, said the bombings bore the hallmarks of the South-east Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, which has been blamed for a string of deadly attacks in Indonesia since the start of the decade.
"Such attacks involving suicide bombers take a long time to prepare. They attack soft targets to show the world that Indonesia is unstable and unable to protect itself." Mr Wijoyanto said that while the attacks were unlikely to be related to political rivalry, they could undermine people's confidence in the government's ability to maintain security. "People are tired of insecurity and they had high hopes that Yudhoyono's re-election would cement stability, but suddenly these attacks happened just after the presidential election," he said.
The national police chief, Bambang Hendarso Danuri, said the bodies of two suspected bombers were found at the hotels, which are connected by an underground tunnel and located in a business and diplomatic district. It was the second bombing on the Jakarta Marriott. In August 2003, a militant drove a bomb-laden lorry into the lobby of the hotel and set it off, killing 12 people and injuring 150. Mr Yudhoyono condemned the bombings as "a heinous terrorist act" and pledged to hunt and capture the perpetrators.
Mr Yudhoyono said intelligence reports suggested there were attempts to destabilise the country, including a plot to assassinate him, and undermine hard won economic and political stability. The peaceful nature of the presidential poll and legislative elections held in April were hailed a sign that stability is taking hold and democracy flourishing in the world's fourth most populous nation, which until a few years ago still grappled with a shambolic economy, a violent separatist insurgency in Aceh province, Muslim-Christian violence in eastern regions and militant bombings.
Jemaah Islamiyah, known as JI, is also blamed for the first Bali bombings in 2002 when 202 people were killed, most of whom were Australian tourists, and the 2004 attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in which 11 people were killed. Mr Yudhoyono's government has won praise for its crackdown on JI. Scores of the group's operatives and leaders have been arrested, jailed or killed. But a senior leader, Noordin Mohammad Top, is still on the run and analysts said they believed he is still recruiting followers. A former chief of the National Intelligence Agency, Abdullah Hendropriyono, said he had no doubt yesterday's attacks were the work of Noordin. "The method, the modus operandi, the targets bear the hallmarks of Noordin Top," he told Metro TV.
Australia, the United States and the European Union have condemned the attacks. The English football club Manchester United cancelled their planned visit to Indonesia, where they were to play a friendly match with an Indonesian XI side on Monday. * The National