September 12, 2004 in Nation/World

Images show embassy blast; 2 Malaysian militants sought

Chris Brummitt Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

This is a combo image of the chronology of the explosion, from left to right, in front of the Australian Embassy, covered behind the trees on the background of the first picture, captured by a security camera from a building across the street from the embassy on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesian police on Saturday released security camera images of a truck bombing outside the Australian Embassy, and investigators found traces of explosives in a room rented by two Malaysian militants wanted in the blast.

Also Saturday, about 1,000 members of a hard-line Muslim group rallied in downtown Jakarta against Thursday’s attack, which killed nine people, two of them suspected suicide bombers.

Demonstrators carried banners reading: “Islam rejects terrorism!”

“We are deeply saddened by Thursday’s blast. We don’t want to be labeled as a group that supports bombings,” said a spokesman for Hizbut Thahrir, which last year led protests against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The bombing came ahead of elections in both Indonesia and Australia, leading to suggestions it may have been timed to influence those results.

Indonesian and Australian police, who are cooperating in the investigation, said several suicide bombers were still at large and could be planning more attacks in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

The video released by police was taken from two security cameras on buildings opposite the heavily fortified mission on a busy commercial street in downtown Jakarta.

It shows passers-by and security guards milling outside the gate minutes before they are enveloped in a huge cloud of white smoke and debris. People can be seen screaming and running in panic.

The attack was blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah, an al Qaeda affiliate that was also implicated in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, and a suicide attack last year on the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta that killed 12.

Police have said they believe that two Malaysians – Azahari bin Husin and Noordin Top – constructed the Australian Embassy bomb and recruited the militants who carried out the operation.

The two men have been linked previously to the Bali and Marriott attacks. Indonesian authorities claim to have been close to catching them over the last year.

Police chief Gen. Dai Bachtiar said officers had found traces of TNT and sulfur in a rented room used by the pair in west Jakarta, near the city’s international airport.

He said the same substances were found at the scene of the bombing.

“We are still facing a terrorist threat, especially from Azahari and Noordin Top,” Bachtiar said. “We are hunting them down.”

He also said police believed the two men had been planning to attack an anti-terror training center during an opening ceremony in July attended by President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Australian Justice Minister Chris Ellison.

“I think they just canceled the attack … maybe they thought security was very tight,” Bachtiar said. The information about the planned attack came from interrogation of several alleged militants arrested in June, he said.

Australia’s vocal support for Washington’s war against terror has long made it unpopular among militants in Southeast Asia.

Most analysts predict the bombing will help Prime Minister John Howard’s government in next month’s election against the Labor Party because it is seen as stronger on security issues. Opinion surveys show the race too tight to call.

The attack came in the run-up to presidential elections Sept. 20 in Indonesia. President Megawati Sukarnoputri is trailing badly in the polls behind her former security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Terrorism is rarely mentioned by either candidate, both of whom are secular nationalists.

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