MARGARET WARNER: Joining me by phone from Jakarta is Tim Palmer, the Indonesia correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. He also covered the bombing in Bali last October. Tim palmer, welcome. I understand you got to the scene shortly after the blast. Describe it for us.
TIM PALMER: Well, the scene after the blast, and some hours after the blast, was one of fire and tangled mess, really. There were flames pumping out of the lower parts of the building; the foyer, itself, completely destroyed.
And if you look up along this giant tower, something like 33 stories, I think twenty or twenty-two stories the windows are punched out to that height, so a significant blast. Even now, some 12 hours later, the place appears completely ruined. And the carcasses of three or four vehicles are still in this u-shaped driveway that police are concentrating on, believing that the vehicle that carried out this bombing was driven into that driveway, possibly using the vacant taxi rank to avoid security checks, and was detonated there.
Police now focusing their attention on a Kijang vehicle, a very common Toyota vehicle here in Indonesia, which they think might have entered that part of the ramp. They are checking the serial numbers. And what police have also suggested is that they are checking body parts found in and around that suspect's vehicle, fearing that this could be a suicide attack, which would make this again-- I mean, the chilling similarity to Bali-- the second suicide attack in this region.
MARGARET WARNER: This was a Marriott- owned hotel, a U.S.-owned hotel. It would seem an obvious target. How well secured was it?
TIM PALMER: Yes, it clearly was a western hotel, in its own right, and so well secured that it became very much a western figurehead, because it was considered to have such good security that western diplomats and other officials flocked there. A number of embassies were in buildings attached to the hotel, right in the heart of the diplomatic circle of Jakarta-- considered, I guess, one of the least likely targets to be hit. Again, this shows how hard it is to protect this type of generally soft target from an attack of this nature.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you mentioned that authorities think this may well have been a suicide bombing not unlike the Bali bombing. Are authorities there saying what officials here are saying in the background, which is that the MO really does bear the hallmarks of the same group that did the Bali bombing?
TIM PALMER: Very much so. Officials are pointing to the Jemaah Islamiyah group here. Suspects are obviously now being tried for the Bali bombing, and a verdict is expected on the first of those suspects, just a couple of days away. At the same time, the alleged leader of that group, Abu Bakar Bashir, gave evidence in his trial in Jakarta today.
There are some suggestions in some quarters that the coincidence of these events may have provided the timing for this attack. Secondly, as you say, the actual operation bears the hallmarks of previous Jemaah Islamiyah attacks, including the Bali attack, which used a car bomb and a suicide bomber, if that is the case with this attack and thirdly and perhaps most critically, a recent point is that just a few weeks ago, Indonesian police in Jakarta and another Javanese city arrested nine members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a new cell of this group, which of course has been linked to al-Qaida only last week in terms of funding.
They suggested that this group was planning to attack targets in Jakarta, and had amassed an enormous arsenal: 30,000 rounds of ammunition, a large number of weapons, more than a thousand kilograms of the same type of explosives used in the Bali attacks, and 150 kilograms of military-style high explosive, with many, many detonators and prepared bombs. And the police said targets had been singled out in Jakarta. There had been assassination targets, and other soft targets, like hotels and malls, would probably have been picked out.
And critically, what they said at the time of these arrests was that two made-up bombs, or at least shipments of explosives, had already been sent from Semiran to Jakarta, and had never been traced. And police till today still have not found those two bombs.
MARGARET WARNER: So, in general, since the Bali bombing, how aggressively and how effectively have the Indonesian authorities cracked down on this group?
TIM PALMER: Well, this has been the question that's been raised as they've made inroads onto the group. Each time the police rounded up a significant number of suspects in Jemaah Islamiyah, particularly as they chased the Bali bomb suspect across Indonesia-- and remember, they captured one of the key suspects only last month with another large cell in the island of Sumatra, then this group of nine in Jakarta, previously replacement leaders in Jakarta they had rounded up-- the government was presenting this as having made serious inroads in potentially sweeping up the remnants of Jemaah Islamiyah.
I think with this most recent attack and the most recent arrests showing a collection of weapons are now beginning to suggest rather than sweeping up remnants, the place they are just uncovering now is just a much larger and more widespread network of Jemaah Islamiyah in this region than was previously thought, and the Indonesian government today clearly expressed through the security minister, Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono, its regret and clearly humiliation at failure in its attempts since Bali to really thwart extremism in this country.
MARGARET WARNER: I gather today you also went to the morgue. Was what that like?
TIM PALMER: It's a fairly grim scene, of course, and again very reminiscent of Bali, because if this was meant to be an attack on wealthy westerners, something symbolic, the scene at the morgue certainly suggested something almost the opposite. There was one western body there, the body of a Dutch banker-- in fact, the general manager at the Rabah Bank here in Jakarta-- but all of the other eight or nine bodies in this morning, this ad hoc morgue, are in body bags-- some terribly disfigured, some represented just by body parts -- were largely poor Indonesian workers who'd been working outside the front of the hotel.
And with many of the Indonesian victims of Bali, this was the case-- taxi drivers killed. Here, again, there were poor families of taxi drivers turning up, looking for missing men. At least three or four drivers are believed to be amongst the dead, many others wounded. Of around 150 wounded, nearly all of them are Indonesians. If this attack was meant to be against the wealthy or the westerners or the Americans, it certainly seems mainly to have cut down Indonesians and Indonesian Muslims.
MARGARET WARNER: Tim Palmer, thanks so much.
TIM PALMER: Thanks, Margaret.