Saturday, July 25, 2009

3rd bomb failed, saving lives in Jakarta attacks

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Many more people could have died in last week's suicide attacks on two American-owned hotels in Indonesia's capital if a third bomb placed in a guest room had not malfunctioned, police said Friday.

The unexploded device _ a laptop computer filled with explosives and bolts _ was found on the 18th floor of the J.W. Marriott hotel where the bombers had been staying. It should have gone off first, sending hundreds of guests fleeing to the lobby where a suicide bomber was waiting, said Ketut Untung Yoga of the national police.

But the plan failed because the timer malfunctioned, sparing an unknown number of victims in the near-simultaneous explosions at the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton that killed seven people and wounded more than 50, Untung Yoga said.

The tactics are similar to those used by members of the Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah in earlier al-Qaida-funded bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali _ but show a new level of sophistication.

The bomb was placed in a room the men had rented two days earlier. They slipped through security checks and paid a $1,000 cash deposit for their stay instead of using a credit card.

"It is clear that the bomb found inside the hotel was equipped with a timer that shows the time of the (failed) explosion," Untung Yoga said. "It was supposed to explode before the other two."

Experts say the entire operation, probably costing up to $20,000, could have been financed by hard-line Islamist groups in Indonesia. Suspicion has focused on Noordin Mohammed Top, a Malaysian fugitive who allegedly masterminded four earlier terrorist attacks.

"It is possible that the team could have raised the funds needed through robberies," the International Crisis Group think tank said in an analysis Friday. "But if it came from outside as before, al-Qaida would have to be a likely source."

If so, it "would suggest a partnership between jihadi groups inside and outside Indonesia that would raise serious concerns about future attacks," it said.

Members of Jemaah Islamiyah and its splinter factions have been linked to 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings that killed more than 220 people, an earlier bombing at the J.W. Marriott in 2003 and an attack on the Australian Embassy in 2004.

A crackdown by Indonesian counterterrorism forces has netted hundreds of militants in recent years, and Jemaah Islamiyah was believed to have been virtually wiped out. It had been nearly four years since an attack _ an achievement that helped President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono win re-election this month.

Since last week's attacks authorities are again sweeping up suspects _ both known and new.

Among those rounded up in a massive police operation in central Java in recent days are Noordin's wife, their two children and a broom-maker who allegedly confessed to police that he was recruited by Jemaah Islamiyah in 2001 and trained to be a suicide bomber.

No one has been charged, but under Indonesian law they can be held for up to week for questioning.

Ariana Rahma, Noordin's wife, told investigators she had not known her husband's true identity until his photo was shown on TV and in newspapers last weekend, said her lawyer, Achmad Kholid.

She believed that the man she married in 2005 _ who was introduced to her by her father _ was named Ade Abdul Halim and came from Sulawesi. Rahma last saw her husband and father on June 22, when the men narrowly escaped a police raid that found bomb-making material at the family home in the town of Cilacap, her lawyer said.

She "learned from media reports that she is the wife of the most-wanted Islamic militant suspect in Southeast Asia," Kholid said. "She told us that her husband and father decided to not return home because they were afraid to be captured."


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