JAKARTA, Indonesia – Suicide bombers who checked in as guests smuggled explosives into western luxury hotels in Indonesia's capital and set off a pair of heavy blasts that killed eight people and wounded more than 50, investigators said Friday. Eight Americans were reported to be among the injured.
The near-simultaneous bombings ended a four-year lull in terror attacks in the world's most populous Muslim nation. At least 18 foreigners were among the dead and wounded.
The blasts at the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels, located side-by-side in an upscale business district in Jakarta, blew out windows and scattered debris and glass across the street, kicking up a thick plume of smoke. Facades of both hotels were reduced to twisted metal. An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw bodies being shuttled away in police trucks.Alex Asmasubrata, who was jogging nearby, said he walked into the Marriott before emergency services arrived and "there were bodies on the ground, one of them had no stomach," he said. "It was terrible."
A U.S. official told The AP on condition of anonymity that at least eight Americans were among the wounded.
Officials said a New Zealander was believed among those killed and that nationals from Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and Britain were also among the wounded.
Two Australians were also believed to be among the dead, but there was confusion about the exact number of victims.
"I have grave concerns for three Australians following the terrorist bombings in Jakarta earlier today," Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told reporters late Friday. "One of these Australians is an Australian Embassy official. These figures may be the subject of further change."
The dead New Zealander was identified by his employer as Timothy David Mackay, 62, who worked for cement products manufacturer PT Holcim Indonesia. He was reportedly attending a business meeting at the Marriott Hotel when the explosions occurred. An Australian think tank, the Strategic Policy Institute, predicted the Southeast Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah might launch new attacks just a day before Friday's deadly strike.
A paper released Thursday said tensions in the group's leadership and the release of former members from prison "raise the possibility that splinter factions might now seek to re-energize the movement through violent attacks."
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the attack was carried out by a "terrorist group" and vowed to arrest the perpetrators. He also suggested a possible link to the national election last week that is expected to hand him another five-year term as president, but he provided no details.
Suspicion will fall on the Southeast Asian Islamist militant group Jemaah Islamiyah or its allies. The network is blamed for past attacks in Indonesia, including a 2003 bombing at the Marriott when 12 people died. "Those who carried out this attack and those who planned it will be arrested and tried according to the law," a somber-looking Yudhoyono told a news conference.
The suspects of the Marriott bombing stayed on the 18th floor, where un-detonated explosives were found after Friday's twin explosions.
"There were several perpetrators," he told reporters. "They were disguised as guests and stayed in room 1808."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the bombings as reflecting "the viciousness of violent extremists" and said they "remind us that the threat of terrorism remains very real." She said the United States was prepared to provide assistance if requested by the Indonesian government. The European Union condemned the blasts as "brutal."
In a statement, President Obama said the "American people stand by the Indonesian people in this difficult time," and pledged the U.S. government would "stand ready to help the Indonesian government respond to and recover from these outrageous attacks as a friend and partner."
"Indonesia has been steadfast in combating violent extremism, and has successfully curbed terrorist activity within its borders. However, these attacks make it clear that extremists remain committed to murdering innocent men, women and children of any faith in all countries," he said.
There has been a massive crackdown in recent years by anti-terrorist officials in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation of 235 million, but Gunaratna said the group was "still a very capable terrorist organization."
Police have detained most of the key figures in the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah and rounded up hundreds of other sympathizers and lesser figures.
In October 2002 two Bali nightclubs were attacked killing 202 people, many of them foreign tourists. Jemaah Islamiyah was accused of responsibility.