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14 killed as car bomb rips top Jakarta hotel

Jakarta, Aug. 5 (Reuters): A huge car bomb ripped through one of the top hotels in Indonesia’s capital today, killing 14 people and wounding about 150.

The city’s governor said a suicide bomber was probably responsible for the attack on the JW Marriott Hotel — the second major blast to hit Indonesia in less than a year.

It was timed as thousands of workers poured out of offices for lunch and mosques called the faithful to prayer. The blast ripped through the lobby and set fire to cars and taxis out front. Many windows in the 33-storey hotel were blown out. Wreckage from the charred lobby was strewn over a wide area.

Diners were eating lunch in restaurants and cafes in the hotel and in a nearby office tower when the blast blew out windows and showered people with shards of glass.

The Indonesian Red Cross said 14 people died and 150 were wounded.

“Thirteen bodies have been evacuated to hospitals while the last one, a human head without body, was just found by a Red Cross team on the fifth floor of the hotel,” a senior Red Cross official said.

The National Police Chief, General Da’i Bachtiar, said the car bomb blew up near the lobby, not the basement as earlier reports suggested. He said the blast was similar to the Bali bombings.

Today’s attack coincided with high-profile trials of suspected Islamic militants on bomb-related charges — including that of Abu Bakar Bashir, an influential cleric in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

He is accused of leading the Jemaah Islamiah network blamed for a series of attacks on Western targets including October’s Bali bombings that killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists.

Police have said a Dutch banking executive was among the dead, while two Americans, two Singaporeans, an Australian and a New Zealander among those wounded. The official Antara news agency said 111 people were injured, many seriously.

The Marriott, popular with foreign businessmen, is in the wealthy suburb of Kuningan on a major road through the city’s business district. The hotel is close to the diplomatic area of Menteng where many Western embassies and consulates are based. Management said the hotel was 70-80 per cent full at the time of the blast.

“It was panic. Mad panic,” said Stephen Mellor, a foreign resident who was parking his car less than 100 metres from the hotel at the time of the blast.

“The police and paramedics did what they could, but they seemed overwhelmed. People were almost hijacking cars in desperation and piling the injured in them to take to hospital.” Jakarta governor Sutiyoso said: “There is a strong possibility this was a suicide bomber,” while defence minister Matori Abdul Djalil was more blunt, calling it an act of terrorism.

Washington said last week that Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network was planning new suicide hijackings and bombings in the US and abroad. The US embassy held its 4th of July independence celebrations at the hotel. “Intelligence agencies have warned for months now of the possibility of attacks and the bulk of Jemaah Islamiah remains at large,” said security expert Andrew Tan at Singapore’s Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies.

A visibly angry chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the bombing and said the government was determined to find the “inhumane” perpetrators. He also told Indonesians not to assume public places were safe.

The explosion hit Indonesia's financial markets. The main stock index ended down three per cent, its lowest in more than two months.

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