Al Qaeda Blamed for Bali Bombing

Times Staff Writer

A car bomb that killed at least 188 people on the island of Bali was the work of the Al Qaeda network with help from home-grown terrorists, Indonesia’s defense minister said Monday.

As investigators from the United States, Australia and Indonesia searched for clues in the rubble of a popular nightclub district, Defense Minister Matori Abdul Jalil told reporters there was no question that Osama bin Laden’s group was behind the blast. Until now, the government had resisted the idea that Al Qaeda might be operating in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Islamic country.

“We are sure Al Qaeda is here,” Matori said after attending a Cabinet meeting in Jakarta, the capital. “The Bali bomb blast is linked to Al Qaeda with the cooperation of local terrorists.”


In Washington, President Bush said he also believes Al Qaeda was behind the bombing and cited a series of attacks this month: the Bali bombing, a shooting attack on American troops in Kuwait and the bombing of a French tanker in Yemen.

“I believe the attack on the French vessel was a terrorist attack,” Bush told reporters before departing on a campaign swing that will take him to about 15 states in the next three weeks.

“Obviously, the attack on our Marines in Kuwait was a terrorist attack. The attack in Bali appears to be an Al Qaeda-type terrorist -- definitely a terrorist attack, whether it’s Al Qaeda-related or not -- I would assume it is. And therefore, it does look like a pattern of attacks that the enemy, albeit on the run, is trying to once again frighten and kill freedom-loving people. And we’ve just got to understand, we are in a long struggle.

“I am absolutely determined now, as I was a year ago, to continue to rout out these people, to find them, to use the best intelligence we can and to bring them to justice. And we will continue to pursue [them].”

Police have provided few details of their investigation into the Saturday night blast, which demolished the crowded Sari Club and destroyed dozens of other buildings in the Kuta beach district. Officials did say that the type of attack and the power of the explosives were similar to a bombing in Jakarta two years ago allegedly carried out by Jemaah Islamiah, a Southeast Asian extremist group associated with Al Qaeda.

One Western expert said the attack appeared to be a very sophisticated operation, in contrast to most previous terrorist attacks in Indonesia.

In addition to the attacks cited by Bush, the Bali bombing follows closely the release of statements attributed to Bin Laden and his chief deputy. The timing raised fears among some officials that Al Qaeda was regrouping.

Bush said the administration was making progress, but added, “This is a long war, and it’s going to take awhile to fully rout Al Qaeda. We don’t know whether Bin Laden is alive or dead.... We do know that Al Qaeda is still dangerous. And while we’ve made good progress, there’s a lot more work to do.”

Nearly 500 people were injured in the Bali explosion. At least two Americans were killed and three wounded. Most of the dead were foreigners, with the largest number from Australia. Officials in Australia expect the death toll of Australians to be the highest in any incident since World War II.

By Monday, nearly all of the wounded foreigners had been evacuated. Since Saturday night, tourists have thronged the airport, seeking to cut their vacations short and leave the island.

Matori’s comments marked the first time that a top Indonesian government official has implicated the Al Qaeda network in the Bali blast or in any other terrorist act in the country.

“I’m sure there is a link between Al Qaeda and what happened in Bali,” the minister said. “This incident convinces me that the network exists in Indonesia.”

British officials said that as many as 33 Britons were killed in the bombing. In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain must do everything it can to “eradicate this evil in our world.”

“It is difficult because, as the events in Bali showed, they will strike anywhere, anytime, at any place, and they really do not care how many innocent people they kill,” Blair said.

Speaking to Parliament, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said the Australian government would call on the United Nations to list Jemaah Islamiah as a terrorist organization and said there was evidence he did not disclose linking the group to Al Qaeda.

In Washington, Bush said, “Clearly it’s a deliberate attack on citizens who love freedom, citizens from countries which embrace freedom. They’re trying to intimidate us, and we won’t be intimidated.”

U.S. officials also believe that Al Qaeda works closely in Southeast Asia with Jemaah Islamiah, which allegedly is headed by Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.

Bashir has repeatedly denied any involvement in terrorist activity, and the Indonesian government has said it does not have sufficient evidence to arrest him. At a news conference Monday, he again insisted all of the charges were false.

Dozens of Jemaah Islamiah members have been jailed in Singapore and Malaysia for plotting to blow up the U.S. Embassy and other targets in Singapore last year. Members of the group also are believed to have met with two of the Sept. 11 hijackers in Malaysia in early 2000. Several members trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.

Bashir says he had nothing to do with the Bali bombing and suggested it was staged by the United States and its allies to justify allegations that Indonesia is a base for terrorists. U.S. officials dismissed his claim as “totally false.”

Indonesia’s national police spokesman, Brig. Gen. Saleh Saaf, said police were examining similarities between the Bali explosion and a bombing in Jakarta two years ago that severely injured Leonides Caday, the Philippine ambassador to Indonesia. Police say that blast, which killed several bystanders, was carried out by members of Jemaah Islamiah.

“Based on our observations, they are similar -- from the impact they caused, the power of the bombs, the damage and the craters they left,” Saaf said. “There is a possibility that the explosive they used is the same, C4 and TNT.”

Saaf said both bombs were detonated by remote control, making it possible for the attackers to control the precise moment of the blast.

It is too early to tell whether any of the same people were involved, he said.

Two top members of Jemaah Islamiah involved in the blast at the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta -- Faiz bin Abu Bakar Bafana, a Malaysian, and Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, an Indonesian -- have since been arrested for their role in a plot to attack seven targets in Singapore with suicide truck bombs. Police say both men also organized bombings in Manila in 2000 that killed 22 people.

Jemaah Islamiah’s top operations leader, Indonesian cleric Riduan Isamuddin, remains at large. Known as Hambali, he is a close associate of Bashir and allegedly has been involved in terrorist attacks that have killed dozens of people over the last seven years. He is believed to be a liaison with Al Qaeda. Some suspect that he was involved in the Bali attack.

One Western security expert said the Bali bombing showed planning and sophistication far greater than in most of the terrorist attacks that have taken place in Indonesia.

The bombers selected their target carefully -- a crowded street with two nightclubs that were magnets for foreign tourists. They chose a time when the explosion would kill the greatest number of foreigners, a little past 11 on a Saturday night when the clubs were always packed.

“The timing was deliberate to cause maximum damage,” said the security expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “That’s a major departure from anything we have seen, aside from the bombing of the Philippines ambassador. This is a world-scale terrorist incident.”

The U.S. State Department, fearing that the terrorists are planning additional attacks, ordered all nonessential personnel and embassy family members to leave Indonesia. The department also urged all Americans who are in the country to leave.

Indonesia’s chief security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, warned that terrorists may be planning attacks against important industrial facilities, including a Caltex refinery on Sumatra and a liquefied natural gas plant run by ExxonMobil in Aceh, in the island’s north.

“The government declares enough is enough,” the former general said.

Even Vice President Hamzah Haz, who once dined with Bashir and once declared that there were no terrorists in Indonesia, changed his tune. “Whoever engages in terror,” Haz said, “whether a commoner, an official or an ulema [Islamic scholar], we will not protect them.”