Death Toll in Bali Attack Rises to 188

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"Death Toll in Bali Attack Rises to 188"

Newspaper article

By: Alan Sipress and Ellen Nakashima

Date: October 14, 2002

Source: "Death Toll in Bali Attack Rises to 188," as published by the Washington Post.

About the Author: Alan Sipress and Ellen Nakashima are foreign correspondents in Southeast Asia for the Washington Post. Alan Sipress was one of five Washington Post journalists to receive the 2005 Jesse Laventhol Prize for Deadline News Reporting from the American Society of Newspaper Editors for his coverage of the 2004 tsunami disaster.


Indonesia is the world's largest predominantly Muslim country with more than 17,000 islands and a population of over 200 million people. With over 300 different ethnic groups and hundreds of languages, it has an extremely diverse culture. The long-time stability of the government and the beauty of the Indonesian islands has made Indonesia into a major East Asian travel destination, especially for tourists from neighboring Australia. Bali, a predominantly Hindu island, has long been the center of Indonesia's tourism industry.

On October 12, 2002, two near-simultaneous explosions in the Kuta Beach nightclub district of Bali killed 202 people and injured more than 300 in the worst terrorist attack in Indonesia's history. The first blast, which killed eight people outside one nightclub, came from a suicide bomber's backpack. Hundreds of people fleeing the initial explosion headed towards another nightclub, outside which a vehicle was parked containing a car bomb, which exploded several seconds after the suicide bombing. This explosion blew in roofs and smashed in windows in other buildings around the targeted nightclubs.

About 20,000 Australians were thought to be in Bali at the time of the bombing, and the majority of the Bali casualties came from Australia. Most of the other victims hailed from Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Ecuador. Many Indonesians were also among the dead. In the immediate wake of the attack, frightened vacationers camped overnight on beaches, shunning built-up areas incase more attacks occured. Many stayed in their hotels or headed to Bali's airport to look for flights out of the region.

No one initially claimed responsibility for the bombing, but suspicion immediately focused on Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). The United States had been urging the Indonesian government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri to investigate earlier JI attacks more vigorously, partly because of JI's reputed links to al-Qaeda. JI had already been implicated in a plot at the beginning of 2002 to bomb foreign embassies in the region. Foreign observers had worried that conflict was imminent, but Megawati hesitated to antagonize the many Muslims in Indonesia by closely examining the activities of Muslim militants.

Based in Malaysia, with rumored links to al-Qaeda, JI aims to establish an Islamic pan-Asian state that would include parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The group was inspired by the Darul Islam uprising in the 1940s that unsuccessfully tried to force Indonesia to adopt Islamic law when it gained independence from the Dutch. Abu Bakar Bashir, an ex-Darul Islam member, founded JI at an unknown date. Initially targeting Christians in Indonesia, JI is blamed for a series of terrorist attacks on Westerners including the 2002 Bali bombing that killed 202 people. Both the U.S. and British governments as well as the United Nations have officially declared JI to be a terrorist organization.


The death toll rose to 188 today in the aftermath of a devastating car bomb attack Saturday that turned several teeming Bali nightclubs into deadly infernos. The attack brought new demands for Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, to crack down on Islamic militants.

No one asserted responsibility for the attack. A top Indonesian official said the government had a suspicion about who was behind the bombing but declined to provide details. Several foreign diplomats said they suspected it was the work of the Jemaah Islamiah, an Islamic militant network in Southeast Asia that intelligence officials say is linked to al-Qaeda.

At least three-quarters of the victims were foreigners, packed into crowded bars in the entertainment district of Kuta Beach. The buildings burned and collapsed in a series of fires and explosions set off by a bomb hidden in a sport-utility vehicle.

Among the dead were tourists celebrating after the opening of a rugby tournament. They included at least 14 from Australia; others were from Canada, Britain, Germany, and Sweden. The State Department said two Americans were known dead and three were among the nearly 300 injured.

The State Department tonight ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. government officials and their families from Indonesia, and is advising all American citizens in the country to consider leaving, a department spokeswoman said.

In Washington, President Bush condemned the attack as "a cowardly act designed to create terror and chaos." Indonesia's national police chief, Da'I Bachtiar, called it "the worst act of terrorism in Indonesia's history." Australian Prime Minister John Howard declared, "The war against terrorism must go on with unrelenting vigor and an unconditional commitment."

Australia dispatched passenger jets and Hercules C-130 military transport planes to evacuate frightened tourists and the injured, and Australian Embassy officials said an estimated 120 injured people had been evacuated to Australia on military and commercial flights. Bali hospitals reported shortages of some medicines to treat the wounded.

The attack seemed to signal a shift in tactics by militant groups, diplomats said. They noted that earlier attacks were aimed at embassies and U.S. Navy vessels, including a threat that prompted the closing of the U.S. Embassy for six days last month.

But the Bali attack was aimed at civilians. "It's clear that whoever's behind these attacks is branching out to softer targets," a U.S. Embassy official said. "That's why we're concerned about it."

"The fact of the matter is, groups are targeting Westerners and using the most outrageous [means] to target foreigners," U.S. Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce said.

The attack came on the second anniversary of the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole off the coast of Yemen, in which 17 sailors died. In other attacks Saturday, police reported bombings near the U.S. Consulate in Bali and at the Philippine Consulate in the Indonesian city of Manado. No injuries were reported in either incident.

After an emergency cabinet meeting, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri flew here to see the devastation, which was centered at a popular nightspot, the Sari Club.

According to police, the attack came at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday, when a small, homemade bomb went off in front of a disco, Paddy's. That was followed by a huge blast across the street in front of the Sari Club. The second bomb, hidden in a Toyota Kijang, ripped into the open-air bar, triggering a massive burst of flames caused by gas cylinders used for cooking. Subsequent fires and explosions flattened about 20 buildings and much of the block, trapping victims under flaming debris.

"This bombing is a warning to all of us that terrorism is a real danger and potential threat to national security," Megawati said. "The Indonesian government will continue cooperation with the international community to overcome terrorism."

Indonesia has been under growing pressure to deal with Islamic militancy, and the attack Saturday brought new demands from abroad for action. Although Indonesia's Muslim population is overwhelmingly moderate, U.S. officials have said that the country's geography—17,000 islands offering myriad ports of entry that are difficult to control—makes it easy for militants to penetrate and operate away from official scrutiny. Bali, a largely Hindu enclave, had been considered immune to political violence.

Megawati's chief security minister vowed that the attack in Bali would force the Indonesian government to strengthen its efforts against terrorism. "This incident has created a turning point, and from now on, the government will not be able to entertain doubts about harsh action," the minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, told Indonesian reporters, adding that the government had suspicions about who was responsible but would not provide details.

Boyce, the U.S. ambassador, told the Associated Press that although it was not possible to pin the attack on al-Qaeda, there has been growing evidence that the network of Osama Bin Laden has been reaching out to local militants.

"In recent weeks, we have been able to put to an end a year of speculation as to whether al-Qaeda might be in Indonesia, or relocating to Indonesia, or using Indonesia as a base of operations, after the fall of Afghanistan,"Boyce said.

Howard, the Australian prime minister, said:"We would like to see a maximum effort on the part of the Indonesian government to deal with the terrorist problem within their own borders. It's been a problem for a long time."

Jusuf Wanandi, founder of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said Megawati's government must now act "for their own survival and for the republic's survival." Failure to do so "will damage the credibility of Indonesia." He added, "If she does not make a real effort to combat terrorism, the number one backlash will be from the international community. "

Australia said it was sending an investigative team, including forensic specialists, to assist the Indonesians. The United States dispatched a regional security officer from the embassy in Jakarta and an FBI agent from Singapore to help, officials said.

[On Monday, Indonesian government officials said they welcome foreign investigative assistance if it is coordinated by the Indonesians. Gen. Endriartono Sutarto, the armed forces chief, said government officials would discuss how to coordinate their intelligence efforts, now run independently by the military, the police and the state intelligence agency.]

Before the Bali bombing, the United States had been urging Indonesia to investigate some earlier attacks more vigorously. In particular, U.S. officials want to see police actively pursue a Sept. 23 grenade explosion outside a U.S. Embassy house in central Jakarta. Indonesian and Western officials said the blast was a bungled attempt by Islamic militants to attack a U.S. target. The police have dismissed the grenade explosion as a debt-collection effort gone awry, unrelated to terrorism.

After the blast in Bali, the State Department said it was recalling nonessential diplomatic personnel. "These measures reflect our assessment of increased security concerns in Indonesia arising as a result of the most recent bombings," spokeswoman Jo-Anne Prokopowicz said.

The United States has also issued a travel warning advising Americans to defer travel to Indonesia, she said. The embassy in Jakarta and consulate in Surabaya will remain open, though they may close occasionally for security reasons, she added.

The last time the embassy sent staff members home was during the 1998 riots that led to President Suharto's downfall.

The withdrawal of U.S. diplomats could further sour the confidence of investors and enthusiasm of tourists for Indonesia, economists said. The Indonesian economy is already struggling to recover from the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and tourism, a crucial component of the economy, was dealt a major setback by the Saturday attack on an island that offers tropical beaches, lush forests and a mystical aura.


Bali's tourism-dependent economy collapsed after the attack. Travelers began to slowly return, but as of 2005, the Indonesian tourist industry has not fully recovered. The bombing also prompted security concerns. Sites that attract great numbers of tourists such as hotels, nightclubs, and restaurants are so-called "soft targets" and are easier to attack than government buildings and military installations. Thailand and Malaysia, among others, reviewed security measures and pushed Indonesia's government to crackdown on JI.

Indonesia's neighbors considered that JI had joined with other al-Qaeda linked groups, including the Philippines's Abu Sayyaf, to develop a network of extremists able to carry out attacks across the region. These countries joined with the U.S. in urging Indonesia to take strong measures against JI. However, Indonesia refused to list the group as a terrorist organization fearing a political backlash from Muslims. Banning JI would likely lead to a counter-response from organizations such as the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (Council of Islamic Holy Warriors), who may attack Indonesia for cooperating with western nations. Meanwhile, JI has continued its terrorist actions, including an attack on Jakarta's JW Marriot hotel in 2003 that killed 12 people, and a car bombing at the Australian embassy in 2004 that left eleven dead.

Indonesia did arrest and convict the key suspects in the Bali bombing but the relatively light sentences received by the suspects angered the victims. Abu Bakar Bashir received thirty months in jail for conspiracy in the bombing. Abu Bakar Bashir, head of JI, received two and half years in prison. Imam Samudra, the mastermind of the attack, and Amzozi bin Nurhasyim, supplier of the bombs, were both sentenced to die. Muklas, a financier, also received a death sentence. Ali Imron, the operations chief, received life in prison. Abdu Rauf and Andri Oktavia, who stole money to pay for the attacks, each received sixteen years in prison. The remaining 27 bombing conspirators received sentences ranging from three years to fifteen years.



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