Friday, July 17, 2009

Hotel 'terror' blasts kill nine in Jakarta

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Bomb blasts tore through two luxury hotels Friday morning in Jakarta, Indonesia, killing at least nine people in what the country's president called a "terrorist" attack.

Officials said more than 50 people were injured in the explosions at the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels, which punched out the windows of a usually crowded restaurant and sent plumes of smoke into the sky.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the bombings as the work of extremists.

"I condemn this terrorist attack," Yudhoyono said. "I know they will never stop."

One hospital reported that there were 16 foreigners wounded in the blast, according to state-run Antara News Agency. The victims were from the United States, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Netherlands, India, Australia and Britain.

Indonesia has been hit by several deadly bomb attacks targeting foreigners in recent years. More than 200 people were killed on the resort island of Bali in 2002 while 12 people were killed in a blast at the same Marriott hotel in Jakarta in 2003.

Those attacks were blamed on the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group, said to have links to Al-Qaeda.

Presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal said the attacks on the hotels, which stand 50 meters apart, were coordinated.

Forensics experts are collecting evidence at the "disturbing scene," Djalal said. He said he had few details about the blasts, which occurred about 7:48 a.m. (8:48 p.m. Thursday ET) on Friday, Islam's holy day.

Later Friday, police confirmed they had found an unexploded bomb in a room on the 18th floor of the Marriott Hotel.

"We had to defuse the bomb because it's armed and ready to explode. The bomb is now secure," a police spokesman said.

Djalal, who said the lobby of the Marriott bore the brunt of the explosions, vowed that those behind the attacks would be brought to justice.

"What I can say is one of the most damaged areas that we looked at, where the bodies were, was a lounge area in the Marriott near the lobby," Djalal said. "That seems to be the epicenter of the bomb."

"This is a blow to us, but I don't have any doubts that we will be able to uncover and find out the perpetrators," he said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Police said the bomb at the Marriott likely came from the basement beneath the coffee shop on the ground floor, which would have been busy at breakfast time.

At the Ritz, windows were blown out on the second floor, as though the blast occurred from inside a hotel restaurant that also would have been crowded with a breakfast crowd, said witness Greg Woolstencroft.

Another witness counted four foreigners among the wounded, according to state-run Antara New Agency.

The Ritz-Carlton was to have accommodated soccer players from Britain's Manchester United, who were expected to arrive in Jakarta on Sunday.

The team canceled its trip to Indonesia after the bombing, its Web site said.

A Ritz-Carlton spokeswoman released a statement saying: "Our deepest sympathies go out to the victims and their families. As always, the safety and security of our guests and associates is a high priority."

The U.S. State Department said several American citizens are among the injured.

"The State Department is working to help American citizens injured in the blasts," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. "The attacks reflect the viciousness of violent extremists, and remind us that the threat of terrorism remains very real."

Australian authorities said they had reports of at least two wounded Australians.

We "condemn these barbaric attacks," said a spokesman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

"There was a boom and the building shook, and then subsequently two more," said hotel guest Don Hammer, who was leaving his room in the Marriott when the blast occurred.

"The shocking part was entering the lobby, where the glass at the front of the hotel was all blown out and blood was spattered across the floor, but most people were leaving calmly."

Woolstencroft said he had just walked past the hotels to his nearby apartment when he heard an explosion.

"I looked out my window and I saw a huge cloud of brownish smoke go up," he told CNN in a telephone interview. "I grabbed my iPhone to go downstairs ... and then the second bomb went off at the Ritz-Carlton, so I then ran around to the Ritz-Carlton and I was able to find that there had been a massive bomb that went off in this ... restaurant area and the explosion had blown out both sides of the hotel."

Woolstencroft said he saw a body that "looked like someone who had been a suicide bomber or someone who had been very, very close to the explosion."

There was extensive damage to both buildings and authorities were blocking up the area, he said.

"It's obviously targeted establishments where there are Westerners and expats ... I can only assume it's something to try and send a message," Woolstencroft said.

The television executive said he had lived at the Ritz for a year before moving to his nearby apartment and had been impressed by the facility's security.

"I just don't know how someone could get in there with a bomb, given the level of security and screening that people have to go through," he said, citing armed guards at checkpoints and thorough searches of people, bags and vehicles.

John Aglionby, a Jakarta-based reporter for the Financial Times, said Friday's attack on the Marriott "was not nearly as bad" as the August 2003 strike in which an explosives-laden vehicle pulled into the motor lobby of the Marriott and exploded at the height of the lunch hour.

Former CNN producer John Towriss, who has spent many years in Jakarta, said the Marriott and Ritz often share employees and an underground passageway connects the two buildings that sit across the road from each other.

Towriss said the Marriott has beefed up security since the 2003 attacks, making it impossible for people to drive up to the hotel in cars. Both hotels set up metal detectors and thick concrete barriers to prevent car bombers.

"I always thought I was safer at the Marriott because I thought it had already been bombed once," Towriss said. "I thought that another hotel would be targeted."

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