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Indonesia vows to hunt down embassy bombers
Updated: 2004-09-10 13:52

Indonesia vowed Friday to hunt down the suspected Muslim militants who detonated a car bomb outside the Australian Embassy, killing nine people and wounding 173 in a strike aimed at a key U.S. ally in the war in Iraq.

Police said they suspected Thursday's blast was a suicide attack and were investigating if three of the dead were the bombers.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who flew to Jakarta after the blast, walked to the damaged embassy through streets strewn with shattered glass and metal.

Bouquets of flowers lined the front of surrounding buildings along with posters with handwritten messages saying: ``Today, Indonesia is crying,'' and ``Curse the terrorists!''

Muslim militants blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings purportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, which could influence elections in Australia, where the prime minister is running on a pro-American, anti-terror platform.

It also came ahead of Indonesia's presidential elections and two days before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

``We suspect that it is a suicide bombing,'' said Lt. Gen. Suyitno Landung, the national police force's chief of detectives.

``We are trying to determine whether the parts of bodies of three men at Kramat Jati (police) hospital were part of a suicide squad.''

He said the vehicle used in the attack had been identified as a green Daihatsu minivan.

After meeting with President Megawati Sukarnoputri, police chief Dai Bachtiar said authorities were hunting for two Malaysian fugitives _ Azahari bin Husin and Noordin Top _ and that they had discovered a safe house near the international airport that the suspects may have used last month.

Forensics experts sifted through scene of the explosion, marking evidence on the road by putting small orange flags on bits of bomb debris. The head of the anti-terror unit, Brig. Gen. Pranowo, said detectives were collecting pieces of the car used in the blast _ a vital step in catching the bombers.

Australian post-blast analysis experts were helping in the investigation.

``These terrorists need to know that Australia and the Indonesian government and others as well, will hunt down terrorists until we catch every single one them,'' Downer said.

After touring the bomb site, he visited a nearby hospital where a 5-year-old Australian girl and several other victims were being treated. No one in the heavily fortified Australian Embassy was killed in the blast.

Downer said experts believed that the car bomb was larger than the one used in the Bali attack, which packed at least 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of explosives.

In a statement posted on an Islamic Internet site, Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian terror group linked to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was punishing Australia for supporting the war in Iraq. The site is known for carrying extremist Islamic content, and its authenticity could not immediately be verified.

``We decided to call Australia to account, which we consider one of the worst enemies of God, and God's religion of Islam,'' the statement said. ``One of the mujahedeen (holy warriors) was able to execute a martyrdom operation with a car bomb in front of the embassy.''

Jemaah Islamiyah has been blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, and the Aug. 5, 2003, suicide bombing at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 people.

Australia, a key supporter of the U.S. war on terrorism, sent 2,000 troops for last year's invasion of Iraq and still has more than 850 military personnel in the country. The Iraq war is deeply unpopular in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.

The United States condemned the bombing.

``This is yet another attack against civilized people everywhere,'' White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in a statement.

Islamic extremists are believed to have tried to influence the outcome of elections elsewhere. They blew up commuter trains in Spain just before elections in March, killing 191 people. Days later, voters elected a Socialist administration that made good on its campaign pledge to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.

Analysts were divided on how the bombing would affect Australia's Oct. 9 election. Howard is considered stronger on national security than Labor challenger Mark Latham _ who has pledged to bring the troops home before Christmas _ and could benefit from the perception that Australia is under attack.

Analysts said the bombing was not expected to significantly affect Indonesia's stock and currency markets, although overall sentiment remained cautious. On Friday, the Jakarta Stock Exchange opened only slightly lower, indicating that investors aren't panicking over the attack.

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