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Terrorists Detonate Bombs in Indonesian Hotels

July 17, 2009 at 6:15 PM EDT
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Suicide bombers rocked two luxury hotels in Jakarta Friday morning just as guests were gathering for breakfast. Kwame Holman reports on the bombings that killed eight and injured more than 50.

JIM LEHRER: And still to come on the NewsHour tonight: the NAACP at 100; a health care update; and Shields and Brooks.

That all follows the suicide bombings in Jakarta, Indonesia. Eight people were killed; more than 50 wounded at two American luxury hotels.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman narrates our story.

KWAME HOLMAN: The near-simultaneous explosions happened shortly before 8 a.m., as guests were packing the hotel restaurants for breakfast. The first of the two bombs detonated at the J.W. Marriott in central Jakarta.

Grainy footage from closed-circuit TV showed a man walking across the lobby and, seconds later, the flash of the explosion. Two minutes later, a second blast at the main restaurant in the neighboring Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Windows in both hotels were blown out, and debris and glass were scattered on the streets outside, where shaken guests and onlookers gathered.

WITNESS (through translator): It was so big, especially at the Marriott. There was suddenly white smoke in the air, and then about, five minutes later, the Ritz-Carlton got hit.

KWAME HOLMAN: There were reports at least two Australians and a New Zealander were among the dead, and nearby hospitals quickly filled with the wounded. Many were foreigners, including eight Americans, plus Australians and at least 10 other nationalities.

The Marriott is the same hotel that was targeted six years ago, when a car bombing killed 12. Since then, the building has been reinforced, and most foreign hotels in the city have stepped up security.

But today, police said it appeared the attackers were posing as guests. Investigators found an unexploded bomb on the Marriott’s 18th floor, where the suspects had been staying since Wednesday.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono vowed to arrest those responsible.

SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO, president, Indonesia (through translator): This terrorist action is thought to be the work of a terrorist group, even though it is not certain whether this is the terrorism which we are familiar with up until now. Today marks a black spot in our history: once again, an attack or bombing by terrorists in Jakarta.

First major attack in four years

KWAME HOLMAN: This was the first major terror attack in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, in four years.

In Washington, President Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, condemned the attacks. He said the U.S. will be unwavering in its support of Indonesia to eliminate the threat of violent extremists.

Suspicion today immediately fell on an Indonesian terror network with ties to al-Qaida and across Southeast Asia.

ZACHARY ABUZA, professor of political science, Simmons College: I think, right now, all eyes are falling on a group called Jemaah Islamiyah.

KWAME HOLMAN: Zachary Abuza, a professor at Boston's Simmons College, has written extensively about the group.

ZACHARY ABUZA: They've done it before. They've attacked major hotels in Indonesia, tourist spots, places where foreigners congregate. But they're also the only organization that has the capacity and the will to carry out such an attack in Indonesia right now.

KWAME HOLMAN: The worst attack by the group was one of its first, the 2002 Bali bombing in Indonesia that killed more than 200 people, most of them Australian.

And just yesterday, an Australian think-tank, the Strategic Policy Institute, warned new attacks might be coming.

Terrorists choose targets carefully

ZACHARY ABUZA: They choose their targets carefully. I mean, this is not something they did at the last minute. They obviously did their reconnaissance and figured out how to get into these hotels and the location of them being very close together, but in a very upscale district of Jakarta.

KWAME HOLMAN: Indonesia and neighboring countries have cracked down on the group, also known as J.I., since the Bali bombings.

ZACHARY ABUZA: There have been well over 400 arrests of J.I. members since 2002. Around the region, there have been the arrests of more than 600 members, including the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore. So J.I. is really a shadow of its former self. It's a much smaller organization. Really, they're on the run.

KWAME HOLMAN: Still, even with the crackdown in recent years, today's attack was carried out in one of the most secured areas of Jakarta.

ZACHARY ABUZA: This is a real kick in the teeth for Indonesia, because they've just gone through their very successful second directly elected presidential elections. Democracy has been consolidated in the country.

And, you know, in that way, it's a real setback. But it's not going to undermine democracy. It will have a short-term negative impact on the economy, but the economy is already suffering right now simply because of, you know, the global downturn. But Indonesia will persevere through this.

KWAME HOLMAN: Security throughout Jakarta and around the city's major hotels was stepped up even further after the attacks.