JAKARTA, Indonesia – As the death toll in Thursday’s bombing of the Australian embassy climbed to nine, police intensified their hunt for the man they believe is the master bomb-builder behind the attack: a Malaysian mathematician named Dr. Azahari bin Husin.
Police said the car bomb, which injured more than 170 people, was the work of the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network and its explosives expert, Azahari, who allegedly constructed bombs used in the group’s earlier attacks in Bali and Jakarta. Those blasts killed 214 people.
“From our analysis, the bomb-maker is Dr. Azahari,” said National Police Chief Dai Bachtiar within hours of the embassy blast. “Dr. Azahari has the expertise. He has the ability. That’s why our main target is to capture him.”
The explosion in central Jakarta left a scene of devastation outside the embassy gate. Corpses and body parts were scattered in the street. Cars and motorcycles were destroyed or damaged. Part of the gate was flattened. Hundreds of windows in nearby buildings were shattered. The explosion was heard as far as nine miles away.
Police said Australians were the intended target, but nearly all the victims were Indonesians, including several guards and police officers who had been helping to protect the embassy building.
At least two of the dead were passers-by. One was a 32-year-old man riding by on a motorcycle when the bomb went off. Another was a 30-year-old woman whose 5-year-old daughter was seriously injured by the blast. The girl remains in a coma.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard said that the bomb exploded four yards from the embassy gate.
Australian officials said no embassy workers were seriously hurt. A dozen suffered minor injuries, most by flying glass. Security precautions and fortification of the embassy apparently prevented serious damage to the building and the people inside.
Jemaah Islamiah purportedly claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on a radical Islamic Web site, saying it was punishing Australia for supporting the war in Iraq, the Associated Press reported.
Australia and Indonesia are holding national elections within the next month, but experts on the Jemaah Islamiah said the bombing was more likely motivated by a desire to attack Australia rather than to affect the outcome of either balloting.
“I think this is long-standing revenge,” said a source familiar with the group, which is closely tied to the Qaeda terrorist network. “Their targets are the places of foreigners. Australia is known as a U.S. ally.”
Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda’s leader, has called on his followers to attack Australia. Of the 202 who died in the Bali nightclub bombing, 88 were Australians.
Members of Jemaah Islamiah resent Australia for assisting Indonesian police in the capture of dozens of suspects in the Bali bombing, the source said. They are angry at Australia’s contribution of troops to the U.S. war effort in Iraq. And they blame Australia for East Timor’s success gaining independence from predominantly Muslim Indonesia in 2002.
In Australia, Howard is unlikely to suffer politically from the attack and might even gain in the polls, given the small scale of Australian casualties. He and his rival, Labor Party leader Mark Latham, condemned the attack in harsh terms.
“This is not a nation that is going to be intimidated by acts of terrorism,” Howard said. “We are a strong, robust democracy.”
The bombing is likely to have little effect on the Indonesian presidential campaign, predicted Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels, Belgium-based think tank, and an expert on Jemaah Islamiah.
Both candidates, President Megawati Sukarnoputri and former Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, have taken a tough stance against terrorism and condemned Thursday’s attack in similar language.
The alleged bomb-maker, Azahari, who has been dubbed “Demolition Man” by the Malaysian media, is one of the few key Jemaah Islamiah suspects in the Bali bombing who has not been caught. Police say the former university lecturer, who studied in Australia and Britain, is frequently on the move but has stayed mainly in Indonesia.