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Indonesia Links Al-Qaeda to Bombing

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Indonesia links al-Qaida to bombing

Thousands of tourists are fleeing Indonesia after deadly bomb blasts killed more than 180 people in Bali. NBC's Ned Colt reports.

NBC, MSNBC AND NEWS SERVICES

Oct. 14 — Indonesia’s defense minister blamed al-Qaida and its extremist allies on Monday for the massive bomb attack that killed more than 180 people at a nightclub on the resort island of Bali. “We are sure al-Qaida is here,” Matori Abdul Djalil said after a Cabinet meeting in Jakarta. “The Bali bomb blast is linked to al-Qaida with the cooperation of local terrorists.”

IT WAS the first time that a top government official had implicated al-Qaida in Saturday’s attack. Until now, police investigators have been saying they had few clues and no suspects.

Separately, a Muslim cleric who has been linked to al-Qaida told Reuters he suspected the terror group — blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States — also planned the Bali attack.

Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is wanted on terrorism charges in Yemen, said al-Qaida would carry similar attacks against Westerners to combat what he called “American arrogance.”

Masri said on Sunday he and other Islamists received a message from al-Qaida praising last week’s attacks on U.S. soldiers in Kuwait in which one Marine was killed and another wounded, as well as an explosion on a French-flagged oil tanker in Yemen. He said they received a message through an Internet site but would not elaborate.

HELL IN PARADISE

Meantime, fearing that terrorists could strike again, thousands of tourists were fleeing Bali on Monday amid suspicions that al-Qaida was behind the bombing.

The FBI and Australian detectives joined the hunt for the killers while forensic experts painstakingly tried to identify bodies — many badly burned and mutilated.

“Bali used to be known as paradise,” said Indonesian Health Minister Achmad Suyudi. “Now, it’s like hell in paradise.”

The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, often the target of bomb threats, ordered all nonessential staff and dependents to leave Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.

A bomb threat shut down the embassy’s club for a second day. The Australian school in Jakarta closed as a precaution.

FLEEING THE ISLAND

Bali’s international airport was thronged by stunned travelers desperately looking for flights. Many stunned vacationers camped overnight on beaches, shunning built-up areas in case of more attacks.

“We just want to go back to our families,” said Carima Sebba, 26, from the Netherlands. “I’m scared, I won’t be back for a long time.”

Government officials said 181 people died, although hospital workers put the figure at 188. More than 300 were injured. Many were tourists from Australia. Others came from Britain, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Ecuador. Many Indonesians were among the dead.

No one claimed responsibility for the bombing on Kuta Beach. Suspicion, however, immediately turned to al-Qaida and an affiliated group, Jemaah Islamiyah, which is said to want a pan-Islamic state across Malaysia, Indonesia and the southern Philippines.

Jemaah Islamiyah has already been implicated in a plot at the beginning of this year to bomb foreign embassies in the region, and Australia says it is a prime suspect in the Bali attack.

“The attack bears the hallmarks of JI,” said an expert on al-Qaida, Rohan Gunaratna. “Only the JI has both the intention and capability to conduct a professional terrorist attack like the Bali operation.”

CLERIC DENIES INVOLVEMENT

U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce told The Associated Press that while the Bali bombings couldn’t yet be pinned on al-Qaida, there is evidence that it is operating in Indonesia and reaching out to local extremists.

Abu Bakar Bashir, a Muslim cleric accused of leading Jemaah Islamiyah, strongly denied involvement.

“All the allegations against me are groundless. I challenge them to prove anything,” he said.

“I suspect that the bombing was engineered by the United States and its allies to justify allegations that Indonesia is a base for terrorists,” he told AP in a telephone interview from Solo, a city in central Java, where he runs an Islamic boarding school.

Indonesian police refused to say whether Bashir would be questioned despite repeated calls by neighboring countries that he be arrested.

Security Minister Bambang Susilo Yudoyono said there were signs that terrorists were planning attacks against key industrial sites, including Exxon Mobil’s Arun liquified natural gas plant in Aceh and the Caltex refinery in Sumatra.

“We will increase the security alert in those areas,” Yudoyono said after a Cabinet meeting.

On Bali, there was no visible evidence of a higher security presence or stricter controls at the airport, though police officials insisted that an elite unite had been deployed. Police said they had no suspects.

“We have not caught anyone yet, but when we do, we’ll announce it,” Bali Police Chief Brig. Gen. Budi Setiawan said.

DECOMPOSING BODIES

Balinese officials said that only 39 positive identifications had been made, listing 15 Australians, eight Britons, five Singaporeans, six Indonesians, one German, one French citizen, one Dutch citizen, one New Zealander and one Ecuadorean.

But in London, the government said at least 30 Britons had died.

Two Americans were killed and three injured, the U.S. State Department said.

Seven U.N. staffers from nearby East Timor, vacationing in Bali, were injured and two were unaccounted for, U.N. officials said.

The main hospital in Bali’s capital, Denpasar, corpses were lined up under sheets in hot rooms, decomposing rapidly in the tropical heat. Refrigerated containers were being prepared by local and Australian companies.

Bali has been the centerpiece of Indonesia’s thriving tourist industry. The attack sent the currency and stock market plunging.

A decline of visitors could cause devastating repercussions for Indonesia.

Bali’s normally bustling streets and crowded beaches were largely empty of tourists. The few who were out complained that there was no visible sign of extra security.

Gov. Dewa Beratha promised to build a monument inscribed with the names of the victims on the blast site.

“We don’t want Bali’s image to be damaged by this. We want tourists to come back soon,” Beratha said.

The destruction started when a small bomb exploded outside Paddy’s Discotheque in a maze of clubs and bars on Kuta Beach. Shortly afterward, a huge blast from a bomb in a Toyota minivan devastated the Sari Club, a crowded surfer hangout nearby.

The second blast ripped into the open-air bar, triggering a massive burst of flames that officials said was fueled by gas cylinders used for cooking. The explosions and fire devastated much of the block.

Australia Prime Minister John Howard said Monday he was dispatching his foreign and justice ministers to Indonesia to discuss cooperation in the hunt for the bombers.

MORE ATTACKS FORECAST

The United States and Indonesia’s neighbors have urged Jakarta for months to pass an anti-terrorism law that has been languishing in Parliament contending there is a strong al-Qaida presence here.

“I believe this is the beginning of a lot more we’re going to see, perhaps in the U.S.,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on ABC’s “This Week.”

President Bush offered condolences to the families of the victims and said the United States had offered assistance to Indonesia to help catch those responsible.

“The world must confront this global menace, terrorism,” Bush said. “We must together challenge and defeat the idea that the wanton killing of innocents advances any cause or supports any aspirations. And we must call this despicable act by its rightful name — murder.”

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose government has been accused by Washington and its neighbors of being slow to respond to the terrorist threat, flew to Bali, a mostly Hindu island, and promised to cooperate with the international community in fighting terrorism.

“The bombings, once again, should be a warning for all of us that terrorism constitutes a real danger and potential threat to the national security,” Megawati said. She later visited the site with security ministers and top generals.

NBC’s Ned Colt and Norah O’Donnell, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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