Bombing at Australian Embassy in Indonesia kills 8

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - A car bomb exploded outside the gates of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on Thursday, killing eight people and wounding more than 160 in an attack police blamed on al-Qaida-linked terrorists.

The blast flattened the embassy's gate, mangled cars on the busy commercial street, and shattered the windows of nearby high-rise buildings. Dazed survivors desperately tried to locate colleagues and relatives.

"I can't find my family," said Suharti, who had eight relatives working in the mission. "I am terrified. I don't know where they are."

The health ministry said eight people died and 161 were wounded in the 10:15 a.m. blast. The dead included three policemen and one security guard protecting the building. Most of the injured were office workers hit by shattered glass.

Australian Embassy spokeswoman Elizabeth O'Neill said the staff was shocked by the force of the bomb and "the enormity of the crater" left behind.

"The police truck outside has been blown to bits. It's like the wind has been pushed out of you," O'Neill told Australia's Nine TV Network.

Police chief Gen. Dai Bachtiar said an initial investigation showed the blast was caused by a car bomb, but "we do not know whether anyone was in the car."

About a dozen Australians were slightly injured, mostly by flying glass, an Australian Embassy spokeswoman said. Four Chinese nationals also were injured, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said.

In Athens, Greek foreign ministry spokesman Giergos Koumoutsakos said the Greek Embassy on the 12th floor of an adjacent building was gutted and three diplomats were slightly injured.

Police immediately blamed Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian terror network that is linked to al-Qaida. The group has been accused in several deadly bombings, including the bombing of the JW Marriott hotel in the same neighborhood last year, in which 12 people were killed.

In recent years, Indonesia has been hit by a series of deadly bombings of Western targets by militants belonging to Jemaah Islamiyah. In 2002, 202 people - including 88 Australians - died in an attack on two nightclubs on the tourist island of Bali.

Bachtiar said Thursday's bombing bore the hallmark of Jemaah Islamiyah, similar to the Bali and Marriott blasts.

"We can conclude (the perpetrators) are the same group," he said.

Australian forensics experts who worked on those blasts traveled to Indonesia on Thursday.

Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty said Australian police were setting up a joint investigation team with their Indonesian counterparts, but the Indonesians would lead the inquiry.

The embassy is located on a main thoroughfare in the Kuningan district housing foreign embassies, businesses and shopping malls. Bloody corpses and human remains were strewn across the six-lane street.

After the blast, the Australian Embassy closed until further notice, along with the consulate in Bali. Nonessential staff and dependents were given the option of going home.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri was in neighboring Brunei on Thursday at a royal wedding but cut short her stay. She toured the bomb site and two hospitals where most of the victims were being treated.

"Let us all condemn what has been done by (terrorists), because we have seen there are so many innocent victims," Megawati said. "I ask all the Indonesian people to unite in fighting terrorism."

The bombing came as authorities prepared to press charges against jailed cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who has been accused by police of heading Jemaah Islamiyah and playing a role in the Marriott bombing.

Bashir has denied any involvement in terrorism and claims that Jakarta buckled under U.S. pressure to arrest him as part of a crackdown on Islamic activists in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Bashir condemned the attack but predicted he would be blamed for it.

"I'm very upset. I'm against all bombings like this," Bashir said, according to his lawyer, Mahendradata, who visited the cleric in jail shortly after the blast. "But (the authorities) will still use this to attack me. In their desperation, they will accuse me for this attack just like they have the others."

Bachtiar said the bombing may have been the work of Azahari Husin, a British-trained Malaysian engineer who has eluded capture for nearly three years. Husin, one of Asia's most-wanted men and a Jemaah Islamiyah member, has been linked to other bombings in Indonesia, including the Bali blasts.

Several Western embassies, including those of the United States and Australia, have warned their citizens recently about possible attacks by Muslim militants.

On Thursday, the U.S. mission renewed the warning, urging Americans to stay away from the Kuningan district, where the blast occurred.

Indonesian security forces have arrested about 150 people over the Marriott and Bali attacks. More than 50 defendants have been sentenced so far - including three sentenced to death.

Thursday's bomb blast came two days before the third anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. It also coincided with the Indonesian presidential campaign. Two secular nationalists - the incumbent and her former security minister - are running for the top post in the Sept. 20 ballot.


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