JAKARTA: A car bomb exploded outside the Australian Embassy here yesterday, killing at least eight people and wounding more than 130, in an attack police blamed on al-Qaeda-linked militants.
The blast, which came days ahead of Indonesia's presidential election and exactly a month before Australia's general election, blew a large hole in the embassy's security fence and gate and left a deep crater in the road outside.
Charred debris, bodies and body parts, glass and the twisted wreckage of motorcycles, cars and a truck littered the road outside the embassy after the blast, which tore off the glass fronts of nearby office towers, wounding many office workers.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard breathed defiance.
“This is not a nation that is going to be intimidated by acts of terrorism,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
His Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, who was due to fly here later yesterday along with a team of bomb experts, put the death toll at 11, all of them Indonesians.
Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri pledged to track down those responsible, and broke off a trip to Brunei to fly back here.
After a visit to the site and to blast victims in a nearby hospital, she called on Indonesians not to panic.
“I ask the Indonesian society to remain calm and to be on alert in terms of security,” she said.
Her national police chief said the morning attack bore the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda-linked militant Islamic network blamed for earlier blasts in Indonesia.
Police commander General Da'i Bachtiar said the attack was similar to the 2002 Bali blasts that killed 202 people and last year's suicide car bombing of the J.W. Marriott hotel here that left 12 people dead.
“This group is the same as Azahari's group of bombers,” he added.
Azahari is a senior figure inside the South-East Asian militant Islamic group Jemaah Islamiah, linked to al-Qaeda and blamed for the Bali and Marriott blasts. Azahari is believed to have helped make the bombs. The Bali blasts killed 88 Australians.
The embassy bombing came just hours after Australian police said they were beefing up counter-terrorism security before the Oct 9 elections.
Indonesian police have warned of threats, including bomb attacks, related to the presidential election on Sept 20, in which Megawati faces her former security minister.
Indonesian shares and the rupiah currency tumbled after the blast, then regained much of the lost ground. Jakarta's key share index closed off less than 1%.
All Australian Embassy staff were reported accounted for although some had minor injuries.
Witnesses said, however, that an Indonesian guard at the embassy had been killed, and some other victims were in uniforms and either guards or Indonesian police.
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has suffered sporadic bomb attacks in recent years.
The fortress-like Australian Embassy building is surrounded by a tall fence made of thick metal tubes with a large reinforced gate and gatehouse. The building is on one of central Jakarta's busiest roads, lined with office towers, embassies and hotels.
Windows in the nearby Russian Embassy were among those blown out, some reports said.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement Australians in Indonesia concerned for their safety should consider leaving.
Indonesia has arrested and convicted scores of suspects in the Bali and Marriott cases, but some analysts said yesterday's attack proved it needed to do more. – Reuters
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