Police believe the bombers may have checked into the J.W. Marriott on Wednesday, two days before a bomb tore through that hotel and the Ritz-Carlton some 110 yards away, Reuters reported. They found an unexploded homemade bomb in a laptop case in a room on the 18th floor.
The near-simultaneous bombings ended a four-year lull in terror attacks on civilian, Western targets in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, just over a week after a peaceful presidential election was held. At least 18 foreigners were among the dead and wounded.
The explosions 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.
Security video footage shown on a local TV station captured the moment of the explosion in one of the hotels. The brief, grainy images showed a man in a cap walking across the lobby toward the restaurant with other hotel guests and then smoke filling the air.
“There was a big explosion followed by a shock wave,” Ahmad Rochadi, a security guard at the Marriott who was checking cars in the basement, told the AP. “I rushed upstairs and saw smoke billowing from the lobby.”
Anti-terrorist forces with automatic weapons were rushed to the site, and authorities blocked access to the hotels in a district also home to foreign embassies.
The country’s security minister and police said a New Zealander was among those killed, and that 17 other foreigners were among the wounded, including nationals from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, the U.S. and Britain.
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.”
The Marriott was hosting a regular meeting of top foreign executives at major companies in Indonesia organized by consultancy firm CastleAsia, said the group, which is headed by an American.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna said the likely perpetrators were from the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah.
“The only group with the intention and capability to mount attacks upon Western targets is Jemaah Islamiyah. I have no doubt Jemaah Islamiyah was responsible for this attack,” 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 bombed, killing 202 people, many of them foreign tourists. Jemaah Islamiyah was accused of those attacks.
Just a day before the attacks, the Strategic Policy Institute, an Australian think tank, predicted the Southeast Asian terrorist group might launch new attacks. A paper said tensions in Jemaah Islamiyah’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.
Speaking from the presidential palace, the angry and visibly shaken president said the attackers were irresponsible and inhumane. While their identities remained unknown, he said the government will “use the full extent of the law” to bring to justice “those who did it, those who helped them and the masterminds,” the Washington Post reported.
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.
Security is supposedly tight at all five-star hotels in Indonesia. Guests typically walk through metal detectors and vehicles are inspected, but many visitors say searches are often cursory.
In Jakarta, there was concern on Friday that areas popular with foreigners had once again become targets for terrorists. The country witnessed four major terrorist attacks between 2002 and 2005 — the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings; the August 2003 bombing of the Marriott in Jakarta and the September 2004 bombing outside the Australian Embassy.
The Manchester United football team canceled a planned visit to Indonesia. The team was scheduled to stay at the Ritz on Saturday and Sunday nights for a friendly match against the Indonesian All Stars, the Indonesian Football association said.