BOMB BLASTS SHATTER BALI
by Andreas Harsono
American Reporter Correspondent
JAKARTA, Oct. 13, 2002 -- Indonesia was back in the world's newspaper headlines Sunday after three bombs exploded separately in two Indonesian cities, including a powerful car bomb that blasted the famous Kuta Beach in Bali and killed 216 people and injured almost, most of them Australians and other foreign tourists.
Witnesses said the first bomb exploded at about 6 p.m. Saturday in Manado, the capital of northern Sulawesi, in front of the Philippines consulate general. It broke down the consulate's gate but killed no one, although a passerby was lightly injured.
The second blast occurred in Renon, a district in Denpasar, the capital of the Indonesian island of Bali, about 200 meters from U.S. consulate, at around 10:30 p.m. No casualties or damage were reported from the Renon blast, which police described as minor.
Ulil Abshar-Abdalla, a Jakarta scholar who was visiting Bali to talk about radical Islam, said he was at his hotel lobby and shocked to hear the blast,
"It's about one kilometer from my hotel but pretty loud. I told my Balinese colleagues that it must be a bomb but they laughed," he said.
The third blast, the deadly one, took place at almost midnight on Legian Street, a famous place among tourists on Kuta Beach, about 15 minute from Denpasar. Police suspect the explosion came from a bomb in a car parked at a bank close to Paddy's Club and Sari Club - two nightclubs owned by Australians that are frequently crowded with tourists on Saturday night.
The blast badly damaged both clubs across from the bank and damaged several cars parked on the street. "I believe that the blast was caused by a home-made bomb," said Yatim Suyatmo, the spokesman for the Bali police.
An AFP photo showed the site of the blast was about six stories tall. Many of the victims were foreigners on holiday on the tourist island, which is especially popular with British, Australia, Japanese, French and German citizens. Indonesians were also among the victims.
British tourist Matt Noyce, who was inside a bar in Kuta beach, told the British Broadcasting Corporation that the blast had taken place about midnight. "Basically there was just a massive explosion. You didn't really realize it was an explosion to start with. You just saw a blinding light and your ears felt like they were exploding."
"There was just complete panic in the bar - lot of people diving for the door trying to scramble over each other."
Outside it was fairly dark and there were bodies everywhere. "Some people were really badly injured. Lots of blood everywhere, people with burns. Some people with limbs that just, well, just terrible, terrible injuries."
"The streets were really clogged with people, those people who had made it out of the bar and people who were wounded. It was quite a while before any kind of help came. Fires started to Spring up after the explosion and I saw one fire engine arrive quite a bit later."
"The whole place was in chaos because it was a really busy Saturday night. So it was a horrible sight."
"But there were lots of local people as well who I saw were injured. It would have been one of the most popular bars in the Kuta area. If it was a bomb they must have hit it purposely at just the right time."
"Some people said they thought it was a gas cylinder. But one person I was talking to who was a fireman, an American or a Canadian, said he could smell TNT in the air. He said he was sure it was an explosion."
Hospitals in Bali as well as in Surabaya, in eastern Java, a 30-minute flight from Bali, are crowded with victims. About 300 people were injured and late Sunday evening, hospital officials said 188 people were confirmed dead. Their bodies were mostly charred because of the fire that raze the neighborhood after the blast.
Indonesian officials, including President Megawati Sukarnoputri and many cabinet members, arrived at the scene to organize emergency services and evacuation. Tourists were said to be desperate to get flights off the island after the American consulate issued a statement advising Americans to leave.
It is too early to say who was responsible for the bombing, although speculation in Bali frequently mentioned either Osama bin Ladin's al-Qaida - which has reportedly tried to move into Southeast Asia over the past two years, focusing especially on Indonesia - or Abubakar Ba'asyir's Jemaah Islamiyah. (See accompanying story.)
The bombing targets, which are associated with non-Muslim groups or Westerners, are familiar targets of their alleged past operations. It was also not a coincidence that the first two bombs exploded at the Philippine and American consulates. The two governments are widely seen to be anti-Islamic by radical Muslim groups in Indonesia.
Police spokesman Henjke Kuwara said the Manado explosive device had been planted at the fence of the consulate building. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Manado is a port city and a transit point to the southern Philippines, close to where the Islamic militant Abu Sayyaf group is active.
Two years ago, a blast in front of the Philippine embassy in Jakarta killed two people and injured dozens, including the Philippine ambassador.
White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said the White House is monitoring the situation in Indonesia and is working with Indonesian authorities.
Police and the military are "severely restricting" access in and out of Bali from Denpasar's Ngurah Rai airport and the area seaports in Benoa, Gilimanuk and Padang Bai, Suyatmo said.
Andreas Harsono, a Nieman International Fellow at Harvard in 2000, has been the American Reporter's Indonesia Correspondent since 1995.