At Least 8 from US Wounded in Jakarta Suicide Bombings
July 17, 2009 - 3:59 PMThe Obama administration on Friday said a pair of suicide bombings in luxury American hotels in the Indonesian capital were proof of the need to remain vigilant against terror groups. But officials said they do not see the attacks as a sign that violent extremism is on the rise again in Indonesia.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed official U.S. dismay at the blasts at the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta that killed at least eight people and wounded more than 50, including eight Americans.
Other U.S. officials said Indonesia's recent rejection of fundamentalist Islamic candidates and a four-year hiatus from heavy terrorist activity provides hope that Friday's blast was not an indicator of renewed militant strength. But some counterterrorism experts warned that officials needed to brace for that possibility - a concern Obama pointed to in his own statement.
"Indonesia has been steadfast in combating violent extremism, and has successfully curbed terrorist activity within its borders," Obama said. "However, these attacks make it clear that extremists remain committed to murdering innocent men, women and children of any faith in all countries."
Obama planned to call Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to express his sympathy and offer of U.S. help. In his statement released by the White House, the president said "the American people stand by the Indonesian people in this difficult time, and the U.S. government stands ready to help the Indonesian government respond to and recover from these outrageous attacks as a friend and partner."
Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, extended "my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones."
The attacks were the first in Indonesia in four years following a series of devastating bombings that followed the Sept. 11 terror strikes in New York and Washington.
Both Obama and Clinton, who was traveling abroad and issued her own statement from a refueling stop in the Czech Republic, said the attacks were reminders that the that threat from extremists remained potent.
Suspicion of responsibility for the attacks has already fallen on the Southeast Asian Islamist militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, JI, or its allies. The network is blamed for past attacks in Indonesia, including a 2003 bombing at the same J.W. Marriott in Jakarta in which 12 people died and and the 2002 attacks on two Bali nightclubs that killed 202.
After Friday's attacks, Yudhoyono said they were carried out by a "terrorist group" and vowed to arrest the perpetrators. He also suggested a possible link to the national election last week that is expected to hand him another five-year term as president.
That election perturbed some Muslim groups who see the 59-year-old retired general as too pro-Western. But others see the vote as having helped cement progress in the predominantly Muslim nation of 235 million in moving beyond an era wracked by secessionist conflicts, militancy and financial uncertainty.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood declined to comment on who he thought might have been behind Friday's strikes but noted that terrorist groups would feel pressured by Indonesia's democratic trends.
"Indonesia's made an awful lot of progress over the last several years, and there are a number of groups, organizations that are threatened by another democracy in that part of the world," he said.
Wood added that the attacks did not appear to suggest that the militant group JI was resurgent.
"I have no reason to believe that these extremists are on the rise in the region ... and I don't believe that to be the case," Wood said. "These types of incidents happen all too often, and what we've got to try to do is make sure that these type of incidents don't take place in the future."
A former top U.S. counterterrorism official in the Bush administration said the attacks underscore the threat represented by numerous key Jemaah Islamiya operatives still on the loose.
Juan Zarate, now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the new attacks may also represent an effort by the terror faction to regain the attention of al-Qaida. He cautioned, though, that the bombings alone do not suggest a reunification with al-Qaida.
"American officials worry still today about the potential reconnection of JI to al-Qaida in a more substantive way, because those ties largely have been broken," Zarate said.
The State Department said Friday that none of the eight Americans wounded in the blasts suffered life-threatening injuries. It said all had been treated and some had been evacuated to Singapore for additional medical care.
Associated Press writers Devlin Barrett, Lolita Baldor, Pamela Hess and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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