Friday, July 17, 2009

Suicide Bombers Strike Indonesia: Al-Qaeda-linked-group prime suspect

At 7am on the morning of 17 Jul 09, there were explosions at the Marriott and Ritz Carlton Mega Kuningan hotels in Jakarta, Indonesia. At least 9 people are confirmed dead and 50 injured at this time. 8 of the 50 injured are American. Officials said these numbers are expected to increase. The Ritz-Carlton blast occurred approximately five-minutes after the Marriott blast, and both are said to have been executed by suicide bombers.

CNN's Anderson Cooper interviewed Jakarta resident, Greg Wollstonecraft, by phone. Wollstonecraft lives across the street from the Ritz-Carlton. Wollstonecraft, who works from a local Indonesian TV station as the Chief Technical Officer, was returning home from a walk when he heard the first blast go off. As he ran down the stairs to see what was happening he heard the second blast. He immediately went over to get a closer look, and actually got inside the Airlangga restaurant (Inside the Ritz) where the bomb had exploded. He saw bodies laying everywhere, and he even claimed to see what appeared to be the suicide bomber’s mangled body. Wollstonecraft claimed that he lived in the Ritz Carlton for 12 months and he is perplexed how anyone could have snuck a bomb through such incredibly tight security. He said that they must have had some inside help. "The inside of the Airlangga restaurant has been totally devastated," Wollstonecraft said.

No group has come forward as of yet to claim responsibility for the attacks, but it is said to have been executed by known terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiya. This group is closely linked to Al-Qaeda, and is responsible for several attacks in Indonesia, including the 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali; which killed 220 people. Abu Baker Bashir is said to be Jemaah’s spiritual leader. Terror expert, Rohan Gunaratna, told CNN that he has “no doubt that Jemaah was responsible for this attack.” Bomb Squads and other forensics experts have been deployed to sweep the area for evidence and to check for further possible explosives.

Officials reported finding an undetonated bomb in a room on the 18th floor of the Ritz. It is said to have been the control-room for the terrorists. It is not known as of yet whether the men who were in the room were the bombers themselves, or if there were others who have since vanished. The occupants of the room had checked in a couple of days prior. Authorities did confirm that a group of 4 men checked in. Police will certainly be viewing the security footage to identify the room’s occupants and see if they can tie them to a specific group. Although there has not been confirmation on exactly which group was involved, most are just about certain that it was Jemaah. Officials say that the undetonated bomb found in the Ritz is very similar to a cache of explosives found in a house in West Java, Indonesia just 2 weeks ago. The explosives found there are linked to Jemaah Islamiya and specifically to Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist, Noordin Mohd Top; who was the mastermind behind the bombing in Bali in 2002.

Some say that the timing of the attack is significant, because it is a Muslim holiday and that observant Muslims would not be located in such locations. Gunaratna says that these groups will attack whenever they feel is the best time to take down a target, regardless of what day. The message that the group is sending is quite clear: to show that they are still a very capable terrorist organization. Indonesian authorities have arrested hundreds of Jemaah over the course of the last 7 years in a serious effort to crack down on the group’s activities. This is the first terrorist attack in Indonesia in more than 3 years. However, it seems as though Jemaah is having a resurgence of sorts, and they are clearly trying to demonstrate this with these attacks. Note: The fact that these were two American-owned hotels is not an accident.

President Barack Obama released a statement early this morning:

"The American people stand by the Indonesian people in this difficult time, and the U.S. government stands ready to help the Indonesian government respond to and recover from these outrageous attacks as a friend and partner.”

Affected guests from both hotels who have not been killed or injured have been relocated to Marriott Mayflower Apartments and Ritz Pacific Place, respectively.

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