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KUTA - A huge car bomb ripped through two bars packed with foreign tourists on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, killing at least 182 people in an attack blamed on terrorists. The explosion late on Saturday destroyed the bars in the tourist district of Kuta and triggered an intense blaze which burned for hours as rescuers struggled to ferry hundreds of injured people to hospital.
Traumatised foreign tourists - many covered in blood or with horrific burn injuries - stumbled around the scene looking for loved ones or fled hotel rooms for the safety of the beaches. Most victims were foreigners including many Australians, and Prime Minister John Howard led condemnation of the "barbaric" attack and dispatched medical teams to help overstretched hospitals on Bali.
Indonesian military officials said the explosion was the worst terrorist attack in the country's history, while Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer pointed the finger of suspicion at the al-Qaeda network. The attack comes just weeks after the United States reopened its diplomatic missions in Indonesia following a shutdown over the September 11 anniversary caused by fears of new attacks by al-Qaeda.
It also follows a wave of al-Qaeda-linked attacks over the past week - on US soldiers in Kuwait and a French oil tanker in Yemen - which in turn followed new broadcast threats attributed to al-Qaeda leaders. Shortly after the blast at 11pm (15h00 GMT) on Saturday outside the popular Sari Club a second bomb exploded near the honorary US consulate on Bali, without causing casualties.
Another blast about the same time rocked the Philippine consulate in Manado in Central Sulawesi province, but it caused no casualties or major damage. There have been no claims of responsibility. Witnesses said the car bomb here devastated the Padi bar and the Sari Club across the street, which has a garden that was popular with young foreign tourists, and also ripped apart nearby shops and vehicles.
"There are charred and mangled bodies everywhere, it is unbelievable," said French photographer Cyril Terrien. "I have never seen such an appalling thing in my life." Indonesian national police chief Da'I Bachtiar described the blast as "the worst act of terror in Indonesia's history," and said it was caused by an "enormously powerful" bomb. "Judging from the victims, I am certain that this is terrorism because the targets are people in a public place," he told reporters.
Condemning the attack, President Megawati Sukarnoputri told reporters in Jakarta she was heading immediately for Bali with four ministers and the armed forces chief. She said at least 182 people had been confirmed dead, including many foreigners, and at least 132 others were injured. A police spokesperson said the blast was caused by a car bomb. Bali police Chief Brigadier General Budi Setiawan said there were two separate explosions at the nightspot - a small one followed by a more powerful one seconds later which ignited a raging fire.
Witnesses said body parts were scattered across the site and on the roofs of surrounding buildings. Karim Ansel, 27, from Paris, was in a restaurant around 100m away when he heard two separate explosions. "Everybody was shouting and screaming, there was dust all over the place. Somebody asked me if an aeroplane had fallen on top of us," said a shocked Ansel, who arrived in Bali on holiday 10 days ago.
"As I came out I saw awful, awful things. One person was absolutely covered in blood, another woman was running with her clothes burned onto her body." Bali is a particularly popular resort in Australia, and Prime Minister Howard - one of the staunchest supporters of the US-led war on terrorism - urged the nation to be prepared for many deaths. "The indiscriminate, brutal and despicable way in which lives have been taken away on this occasion by an act of barbarity will I know deeply shock all Australians," Howard told reporters.
"The war against terrorism must go on with unrelenting vigour and an unconditional commitment," he said. "There are many Australians unaccounted for, many." Foreign Minister Downer said a Royal Australian Air Force medical assistance and evacuation team was on its way to Bali to assist local hospitals. He said his government had been concerned about the possibility of an attack in Indonesia for some time after an organisation called Jemaah Islamiyah tried to attack Australian, British and US targets in Singapore last year.
"Jemaah Islamiyah, JI as it's known, does have links to al-Qaeda, it has financial as well as personnel links to al-Qaeda, and it's conceivable that an organisation like that could be behind this action," he said. Bali, a postcard paradise island that is about 95 percent Hindu, is a magnet for Western holidaymakers. Until now it has avoided much of the unrest that has rocked Indonesia since the fall of the Suharto regime after the 1997-98 financial crisis.
The United States has issued repeated warnings in recent months over fears Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, may be home to al-Qaeda sympathisers. After months of official denials, senior Indonesian military officials late last month said they believed al-Qaeda may have a limited network in the country. The change in attitude coincided with the revelation that former Indonesian resident Omar al-Faruq had admitted under interrogation in US custody to being al-Qaeda's top representative in Southeast Asia. Al-Faruq, a Kuwaiti, also reportedly revealed plans to truck bomb Western embassies in Asia to mark the September 11 anniversary.

Posted in Terrorism @ 13 October 2002 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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