Bombings in Jakarta

Shortly before 8:00 the morning of Friday, July 17th, 2009, bombs exploded in two of Jakarta’s luxury Hotels, the Ritz-Carlton and the Marriott Hotel. The hotels are across the street from each other, in central Jakarta. They are hotels where visiting expats often stay and where local expats--Curtis, me, our friends--gather for charity events and balls, bazaars, and meals. Sunday brunch at both of these hotels is a popular. We enjoyed Mother’s Day brunch at the Ritz this year. One man with whom Curtis works was staying at the hotel, but was not near the blast. Here is an excerpt from the first security company report I received:

Up to nine people were killed in nearly simultaneous explosions at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and the Marriott Hotel in central Jakarta today, Friday 17 July 2009. Police sealed off the area... Police report the use of a high explosive. Damage to the Ritz Carlton, especially to the Airlangga Restaurant, is reported to be extensive. Damage to the JW Marriot to is at the car park entrance area with extensive blast damage to glazing in the interior lobbies of the hotel. The majority of fatalities had been at the Ritz Carlton and include foreign nationals among them. Sources at the scene report the possibility of more bodies inside the hotels. Witnesses reported that one of the explosions also damaged the lobby of the nearby Plaza Mutiara building.

Victims have reported seeing a very bright white flash at the point of the explosion at the Marriott hotel, with burns reported and a fog-like smoke. One of the explosions reportedly occurred on the third floor of Ritz Carlton, where a restaurant is located.

Indonesia police have subsequently reported that they found an unexploded bomb in a room of the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta today. It was found in what police said was the “control centre” for the attacks. It was defused as police searched the hotel.

Later in the day the report was updated:

This morning's attacks appear to have been sophisticated, well planned and coordinated in order to carry out almost simultaneous attacks on two separate, well guarded and iconically named targets. Both locations deploy extensive security personnel.

So far no group appears to have taken credit; but the level of sophistication, the obvious amount of pre-planning that would be necessary for such an attack and the targets and timings would tend to indicate the implication of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist network in the attack. This supposition is supported by the fact that at least one of the attacks is believed to have been a suicide bomber, and this was the method of attack used by JI in the 2002 Bali bombings. Expert sources have suggested that the JI’s Noordin M. Top maybe behind the blasts.

Police sources at the scene have indicated that the Ritz Carlton attack was the work of a female suicide bomber (the first of its kind in Indonesia) as traces of a suicide vest have been found with her head separated from her body (indicative of a suicide attack). It is not yet clear as to what the delivery mechanism was at the Marriott Hotel, but the apparent size of the blast could also be that of a suicide/motor cyclist bomber.

In the years between 2002 and 2005 there were other similar bombings: The 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people; the previous Marriott Hotel was badly damaged by a car bomb attack in 2003, which killed 12 people; in 2004, the Australian Embassy in Jakarta was bombed, killing 10 people and wounding 161; and in 2005, Bali was bombed again and more people were wasted.

Nine humans—daughters, mothers, fathers, sons, friends—were murdered by these July 17th bombings; 40 others were physically wounded. And all of us—all of Indonesia, all of humanity—was injured.