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Last updated: July 17, 2009 5:45 pm
Indonesia’s government warned on Friday of a campaign to destabilise the country after co-ordinated suicide bombs on two luxury hotels in the country’s capital, Jakarta, killed nine people including at least five foreigners.
Police said the early-morning attacks, which injured at least 53, had the hallmarks of Jemaah Islamiyah, the south-east Asian terrorist group with links to al-Qaeda. If true, this would be its first major operation since carrying out four attacks between 2002 and 2005 in Bali and Jakarta.
World leaders swiftly condemned the bombings and offered their condolences. Barack Obama, the US president who spent some of his childhood in the country, said: “Indonesia has been steadfast in combating violent extremism, and has successfully curbed terrorist activity within its borders. However, these attacks make it clear that extremists remain committed to murdering innocent men, women and children of any faith in all countries.”
In an unusually emotional speech after the attacks, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that intelligence agencies had uncovered a series of violent plots by trained groups aimed at the aftermath of this month’s presidential election.
Official results have yet to be declared but usually reliable surveys indicate Mr Yudhoyono, a former general and former security minister who helped lead Indonesia’s response to the 2002 Bali bombings, was easily re-elected.
Mr Yudhoyono said the plots included forcibly taking over the election commission, starting a revolution if he won, triggering post-election unrest like in Iran and preventing him from being inaugurated.
“This is intelligence, not rumours, not made up, not gossip,” he said in a nationally televised address.
He presented photos of balaclava-wearing men pointing pistols at targets covered with photos of him; he said a video was also seized showing similar acts.
General Bambang Darsono, the national police chief, later reiterated the warnings, adding that the videos and photos were seized in May in East Kalimantan, a province with much dense jungle on Borneo island.
Mr Yudhoyono did not name any individuals but appeared clearly to implicate Prabowo Subianto, a former general who ran as the vice-presidential running mate of Mr Yudhoyono’s predecessor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, but did not offer any evidence. Instead, Mr Yudhoyono said there were people in Indonesia who had committed crimes, killed people and escaped the clutches of the law.
Mr Prabowo, the former son-in-law of late strongman Suharto, has admitted to overseeing the kidnapping of student activists, some of whom are still missing, during the regime’s dying days in 1998. He has disputed Mr Yudhoyono’s apparent victory and alleged massive voter irregularities in the July 8 election. He has also warned publicly that Indonesia risked seeing protests similar to those in Iran in recent weeks.
Mr Prabowo rejected the claims of President Yudhoyono, also a former Suharto-era general. “The police have said the bombings were suicide attacks and I have never had any thoughts in that direction,” he told a hastily-called press conference.
The Marriott bombing occurred just after 7.45am local time and the one at the Ritz Carlton, which is less than 100m away, a few minutes later. Both hotels were among the most heavily guarded in the city, after the Marriott was bombed in 2003.
Manchester United, the English football team, had been scheduled to check into the Ritz-Carlton on Saturday ahead of an exhibition match in Jakarta on Monday. The visit was cancelled on Friday.
Officers said the dead included the two bombers, at least one of whom had been staying in the Marriott for a few days. They found an active bomb in his room.
Of the other six, five were at the Marriott and one at the Ritz-Carlton. Five were believed to be foreigners, including Tim Mackay, from New Zealand, who was the head of the Indonesian subsidiary of Holcim, the world’s second biggest cement group.
Most of the Marriott fatalities and many of the wounded were attending a networking breakfast run by consultant James Castle, who was injured, as he was in the 2003 bombing.
Analysts were divided on Mr Yudhoyono’s claims. Some said the usually calm and rational president would not have made such statements without evidence. Others said that while Islamists were active, it was hard to believe politicians were plotting illegal activities.
Bambang Harymurti, the editor of Tempo magazine said the arguments were “games of the political elite”. “Some people might be wanting to start fires,’ he said. “But they’ll find the grass is not dry.”
News of the blasts led Indonesian stocks to open more than 2 per cent lower but they recovered, and the JSX Composite was down 1.2 per cent by midday.
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