JAKARTA (Reuters) – A huge car bomb tore through one of the top hotels in Indonesia’s capital on Tuesday, killing 14 people and wounding 150 in the second major attack to shake the world’s most populous Muslim nation in a year.
Jakarta’s governor said a suicide bomber had probably caused the blast at the JW Marriott Hotel, part of a U.S. hotel chain.
The bomb ripped out the lobby and set fire to dozens of cars and taxis. Many windows in the 33-storey hotel were blown out.
Defense Minister Matori Abdul Djalil called it “an act of terrorism.” The government warned recently of more attacks by the Jemaah Islamiah network blamed for October’s Bali bombing.
“It was panic. Mad panic,” said Stephen Mellor, a foreign resident who was parking his car less than 100 meters (yards) from the hotel at the time of the blast.
“The police and paramedics did what they could, but they seemed overwhelmed. People were almost hijacking cars in desperation and piling the injured in them to take to hospital.”
The blast was timed as workers poured out of offices for lunch and mosques called the faithful to prayer. It came just two days before the first verdict is due in the trials of Muslim militants accused in the Bali bombings that killed 202.
Diners were eating lunch in restaurants and cafes in the hotel and in a nearby office tower when the blast blew out windows and showered people with shards of glass.
Wreckage from the charred lobby was strewn over a wide area.
Police said a Dutch banking executive was among the dead, while four Singaporeans, two Americans, two Australians and a New Zealander were among those wounded.
BLOWN ACROSS ROOM
Australian tourist Simon Leuning had just arrived in Jakarta and was relaxing in his hotel room when the explosion occurred.
“The window blew in, blew me across the room,” he told Reuters Television. “I got out of there as fast as I could.”
The Indonesian Red Cross said 14 people died and 150 were wounded.
“Thirteen bodies have been evacuated to hospitals while the last one, a human head without a body, was just found by a Red Cross team on the fifth floor of the hotel,” a senior Red Cross official said.
National Police Chief General Da’i Bachtiar said the car bomb blew up near the lobby. He said the blast resembled the Bali bombings because of the use of a vehicle.
Tuesday’s attack coincided with high-profile trials of suspected Islamic militants on bomb-related charges # including that of Abu Bakar Bashir, an influential cleric.
He is accused of leading the Southeast Asian Jemaah Islamiah militant Muslim network blamed for a series of attacks on Western targets and which wants a regional Islamic state.
Bachtiar said one of the many areas of investigation would include several people who had yet to be arrested over the Bali attacks. He gave no names and did not say anyone was suspected.
The Marriott, popular with foreign businessmen, is in the wealthy suburb of Kuningan on a major road through the city’s business district. The hotel is close to the diplomatic area of Menteng where many Western embassies and consulates are based.
Management said the hotel was 70-80 percent full.
Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso said: “There is a strong possibility this was a suicide bomber.”
Washington said last week that Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network was planning new suicide hijackings and bombings in the United States and abroad. The U.S. embassy held its 4th of July independence celebrations at the Marriott Hotel.
The U.S. embassy said the blast was a reminder to Americans to exercise “rigorous” security precautions in Indonesia.
“Intelligence agencies have warned for months now of the possibility of attacks and the bulk of Jemaah Islamiah remains at large,” said security expert Andrew Tan at Singapore’s Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies.
The explosion hit Indonesia’s financial markets. The main stock index ended down three percent.
President Megawati Sukarnoputri visited the blast site on Tuesday evening but made no comments to reporters.
Last Friday she denounced what she called the “blind fanaticism” of Muslim militants accused of the Bali bombings.
The Marriott, which opened in September 2001 and has 333 rooms, is the latest luxury hotel in the bustling city that is home to more than 10 million people