Authorities on Tuesday traced a blast that killed 15 people at a Jakarta hotel to a Toyota minivan that was turned into a powerful car bomb, and said they had recovered the hands of a man who may have been a suicide bomber.
The bomb ripped through the lobby of the JW Marriott Hotel, a crowded ground floor restaurant and the entryway of an adjoining office building at lunchtime, shattering windows, setting cars on fire and sending smoke billowing into the air. About 150 people were injured.
The hotel is a gathering point for Americans in Jakarta, but most of the dead were Indonesians, including taxi drivers who were near the hotel's U-shaped driveway when the bomb went off. One foreigner, a Dutch banker, was killed. Two Americans were injured, neither critically.
Police disclosed today that they had known since last month that the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network was targeting the area including the Marriott.
Authorities increased security patrols in the neighborhood and issued a general warning, but they did not specifically alert the public to the danger at the hotel.
Authorities learned of plans to attack the hotel when they arrested nine suspected Jemaah Islamiah members last month. Police also seized a large quantity of explosives and documents detailing some of the group's plans.
"There was a warning that there were some targets, and we have been anticipating an attack," said Jakarta police spokesman Prasetyo, who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name.
"One of the targets was where the Marriott was located."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, the second major attack in Indonesia in 10 months. Authorities had warned in recent weeks that Jemaah Islamiah, a Southeast Asian extremist group with ties to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network, was planning new attacks.
The bombing of two Bali nightclubs in October killed 202 people and prompted Indonesia to begin cracking down on Islamic militants, particularly Jemaah Islamiah, which is believed to have been responsible for the Bali attack.
Indonesian Police Chief Dai Bachtiar said Tuesday's bomb, concealed in a Toyota Kijang van, resembled the car bomb used in Bali, in part because of its tremendous force.
He said police were investigating whether fugitives in the Bali case were involved in the hotel explosion.
"The Kijang car that carried the bomb was totally destroyed, leaving the car frame while the engine was thrown free," Bachtiar said. "This condition is very similar to the Bali bomb."
Prasetyo said a Marriott security guard who was injured in the blast saw a man in the Kijang moments before the explosion.
"Near the car, there were a lot of human body parts," Prasetyo said. "We are examining whether the body parts came from the Kijang driver."
Police said they hoped to take fingerprints from the hands of the suspected suicide bomber to help identify him.
Police also said they believe they found the head of the driver on the third floor of the adjacent Mutiara Plaza office building.
The blast broke windows as high as the 30th floor of the 33-story hotel and sent shards of glass flying. Nearly two dozen cars were destroyed.
Hours later, blood from the victims was visible on the ground as far as 100 yards from the hotel.
Simon Leunig, an Australian who was staying on the seventh floor, said the force of the explosion broke the windows and threw him across the room. He said he rushed downstairs to the demolished lobby and came across several people injured by the blast. Outside, he saw two dead taxi drivers, he said.
"A man was badly hurt, and I carried him out," he said. "There were about five or six people badly burned."
Authorities put the death toll at 15.
The Marriott quickly became a prominent American symbol in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, after it opened in September 2001. The five-star hotel has been a frequent setting for official U.S. events, including the embassy's Fourth of July celebrations the last two years.
It was also where the U.S. Embassy convened occasional meetings of the local American community to discuss the terrorist threat. At one recent session with hundreds of Americans, Ambassador Ralph Boyce half-jokingly said such meetings were precisely the kind of gathering Americans should avoid.
In Crawford, Texas, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan called the blast "a deplorable attack on innocent civilians" and offered U.S. assistance in tracking down the bombers. The FBI aided Indonesia in the Bali investigation.
McClellan said the attack was a reminder that the "war on terrorism continues. We will not stop until we have disrupted, dismantled and defeated these terrorist organizations."
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who stayed at the Marriott during a recent visit to Jakarta, also offered to send investigators. Many of those who died in the Bali blast were Australian tourists, and Australian officials also helped investigate that attack.
Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri briefly visited the scene in the evening. She examined the crater left by the car bomb, toured the wreckage inside and left without talking to reporters.
On Friday, in a state of the nation address, she had called Islamic militants a "terrifying threat" and promised to "dismantle the terrorist network to its roots."
Jemaah Islamiah, which seeks to establish an Islamic state in Southeast Asia, is linked to Al Qaeda through its military leader, an Indonesian cleric and Al Qaeda operative known as Hambali. Dozens of Jemaah Islamiah operatives once trained at camps in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda has sent money and operatives to assist in attacks in Southeast Asia.
In addition to the Bali blast, Jemaah Islamiah is believed to have been responsible for a string of bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines that killed 41 people in December 2000.
Dozens of suspected Jemaah Islamiah members have been arrested across Southeast Asia in the last year and a half, but Hambali has remained at large.
The Marriott explosion came two days before a court was scheduled to deliver the first verdict in the Bali bombing trials. Amrozi bin H. Nurhasyim, a suspected Jemaah Islamiah member who allegedly bought the car and explosives used in the Bali attack, faces the death penalty if found guilty.
Until the Bali bombing, the use of suicide bombers was unheard of in Indonesia, which has more Muslims than any other country but generally practices a tolerant form of Islam.
Based on remains found at the scene and the confessions of suspects, authorities believe that at least one suicide bomber -- possibly two -- took part in the Bali bombing.
In Tuesday's attack, the vehicle was moving toward the Marriott when the bomb went off, supporting the theory that someone in the van triggered the blast.
Jakarta Gov. Sutiyoso said it was "very likely" that a suicide bomber was responsible.
The explosion demolished a hotel restaurant on the ground floor and started a fire in an adjoining office building. It went off about 12:45, the peak of the lunch hour, when the restaurant was full and workers were going in and out of a nearby office building. The hotel was three-quarters full.
One victim, Dutch banker Hans Winkelmolen, 49, was having lunch in the restaurant when the van exploded, killing him. Winkelmolen, who was president of the Indonesian subsidiary of Rabobank, was scheduled to leave Jakarta within days, after concluding a three-year stint here.
The embassies of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland in a nearby building were damaged, but no one was hurt.
Bachtiar told reporters that police found the van's license and vehicle number, which suggests the bombers may have prepared for the attack in more of a hurry than in Bali, where it took weeks of forensic work to recover a vehicle number.
Indonesian authorities warned last month that another attack was likely after arresting the nine suspected Jemaah Islamiah members.
Jemaah Islamiah also has been active in other parts of the region. In Thailand, authorities arrested four suspects in May and June who allegedly planned to blow up embassies and tourist resorts. In the Philippines, police in May arrested Muklis Yunos, who is suspected of helping Jemaah Islamiah carry out bombings in 2000.
Suspected Jemaah Islamiah bomb maker Fathur Rohman Al Ghozi escaped from jail in the Philippines last month.
"Clearly, Jemaah Islamiah has the operational capacity to plan and execute bomb attacks," said Andrew Tan, a security analyst at Singapore's Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies. "It seems to be a much more resilient organization than we have given it credit for."
Tan noted that more than 150 suspected members have been arrested in six countries, but he estimated that about 500 members trained in bomb-making were still on the loose.
"The threat out there is very real," he said. "The danger of terrorist attacks in Indonesia has always been there. It is something that was expected and we have all been warned about."
Times staff writer Vicki Kemper in Crawford contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun