A powerful car bomb exploded outside two popular nightclubs on the island of Bali on Saturday night, killing at least 182 people, most of them foreigners, authorities said.
Hundreds of people were injured, including at least one American, in what police said was a terrorist attack. Among the victims were tourists from Australia, Britain, Germany, Switzerland and France, as well as Indonesian club employees.
Witnesses said the bombing occurred about 11:30 p.m. when the nightclubs were packed with young foreign tourists. The blast left a crater 5 feet deep in the street outside the clubs.
"This bombing incident is a warning that terrorism is a real and potential danger to our national security," Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri told reporters today before leaving for Bali. She gave the toll of 182.
"This is the worst act of terror in Indonesia's history," said Gen. Dai Bachtiar, the national police chief. "We have to be more alert for other acts of terror."
The blast destroyed the Sari Club and Paddy's Irish Club and ignited a fire that blazed out of control for more than an hour, gutting neighboring buildings in the Kuta district of Bali.
Eric Lloyd, a tourist from San Clemente, said he rushed to the site from his hotel and saw a horrific scene of carnage, with body parts strewn over the street.
"I pulled out bodies with no arms. I pulled out live bodies with no legs," he said. "There were heads lying all around."
Lloyd, 31, who joined other bystanders in helping to rescue survivors, said he believed the death toll could easily reach 300. Police were still pulling bodies from the rubble this morning.
Lloyd and other witnesses said they heard two explosions--a small blast followed moments later by a huge blast that shattered windows within a half-mile radius.
About the same time, another bomb went off about 100 yards from the U.S. Honorary Consulate on Bali in nearby Denpasar, but it caused no casualties. There were unconfirmed reports of at least one other bombing.
No one claimed responsibility for the blasts, but suspicion immediately fell on Islamic extremists, who have been blamed for dozens of bombings elsewhere in the country in the last two years.
"It does look as though a terrorist organization was involved," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in a television interview in Australia. "It clearly looks as though this attack has been coordinated, and it clearly looks like an attack against foreign interests."
If the explosion proves to have been a terrorist assault, it would quite likely be the deadliest anywhere since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
In recent weeks, U.S. officials have warned Americans to be on the alert for an attack in Indonesia. At one point, they closed the embassy in Jakarta, the capital, for several days.
Bali, a predominantly Hindu island east of Java, the main island, had remained largely untouched by the violence that has plagued much of Indonesia. The popular tourist hub had been regarded as the safest place in Indonesia to visit.
Indonesia's Metro TV showed grisly footage of bodies piled up after the blast and of rescue workers covering other bodies with sheets outside the clubs. Dozens of wounded lay in hospital wards, including some on the floor.
Nurdy Ansyah, an employee at a nearby guest house, said he rushed to the scene after the explosion and helped load the dead and wounded into ambulances.
"I saw so many dead bodies at first I thought I was dreaming," he said. "The smell was so strong.... I think a bomb was in a car. It was a very huge explosion."
Dr. Puta Putra Wisade, communications chief at Sanga Hospital on Bali, said that 150 bodies had arrived at the hospital and that 75% of them were foreigners. Doctors at the hospital were treating about 200 victims, he said. Five smaller hospitals in the area also received dead and injured from the scene, he said.
The bomb apparently was placed closest to the Sari Club, an open-sided bar that featured a disco with a giant video screen and catered almost exclusively to young foreigners. The club was especially popular with Australians and was full of people at the time of the bombing. It was incinerated within minutes.
Witnesses said a fireball from the blast also hit Paddy's, which was across the street from the Sari Club and about 50 feet away. It too was destroyed in minutes.
Police said 27 buildings in the area were razed. The fire took about three hours to contain.
"This was a terrorist attack, and the police condemn this act of terror," said Indonesian police spokesman Saleh Saaf. "This was a coldblooded action."
For a year, Indonesia has been under pressure from the U.S. and neighboring countries to crack down on terrorists believed to be operating here.
U.S. officials worry that terrorists linked to Al Qaeda have moved to Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population and a sprawling archipelago where law enforcement is often ineffective.
Indonesia also has been criticized for not taking action against Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who is accused of heading an international terrorist group that plotted to blow up the U.S. Embassy and other targets in Singapore late last year.
Indonesian officials, however, have been reluctant to admit that terrorists with international links may be based here for fear of antagonizing the country's vocal Muslim activists. Parliament has been slow to adopt any legislation that could help in fighting terrorist activity.
But the government began taking a stronger stance today. "Terrorism is in Indonesia," security chief Susilo Bambang Yudhoyonosaid. "Terrorism is in front of our eyes. I ask all Indonesian people to support the government efforts to combat terrorism."
The attack in Bali could prove devastating to Indonesia's tourist trade and its struggling economy.
Indonesia has never recovered from the 1997 Asian economic collapse, but Bali was one bright spot where tourism has even made a comeback since the Sept. 11 attacks.
With Saturday's bombing, hotel operators and residents fear that tourists will stop coming to Bali.
Long lines were reported at the airport today as many tourists scrambled to leave the island as quickly as possible after the bombing.
"Everybody's trying to get out of here," said Lloyd, a surfer who had spent Friday evening at the Sari Club. "The Bali people are so bummed because they know this is going to kill their tourism."
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`Island of the Gods'
The paradise island of Bali, known as the 'Island of the Gods,' lures tourists from around the globe with its white sand beaches and unique Hindu culture. Country: Indonesia Area: 2,192 square miles, about the size of Delaware Population: 3.2 million Religion: 95% Balinese Hindu, plus Muslims and Christians * Sources: Bali Tourism Authority, Times wire servicesCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun