KUTA, Indonesia, Oct. 13 — The death toll rose to 188 today in the aftermath of a devastating car bomb attack Saturday that turned several teeming Bali nightclubs into deadly infernos. The attack brought new demands for Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, to crack down on Islamic militants.
No one asserted responsibility for the attack. A top Indonesian official said the government had a suspicion about who was behind the bombing but declined to provide details. Several foreign diplomats said they suspected it was the work of the Jemaah Islamiah, an Islamic militant network in Southeast Asia that intelligence officials say is linked to al Qaeda.
At least three-quarters of the victims were foreigners, packed into crowded bars in the entertainment district of Kuta Beach. The buildings burned and collapsed in a series of fires and explosions set off by a bomb hidden in a sport-utility vehicle.
Among the dead were tourists celebrating after the opening of a rugby tournament. They included at least 14 from Australia; others were from Canada, Britain, Germany and Sweden. The State Department said two Americans were known dead and three were among the nearly 300 injured.
The State Department tonight ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. government officials and their families from Indonesia, and is advising all American citizens in the country to consider leaving, a department spokeswoman said.
In Washington, President Bush condemned the attack as "a cowardly act designed to create terror and chaos." Indonesia's national police chief, Da'I Bachtiar, called it "the worst act of terrorism in Indonesia's history." Australian Prime Minister John Howard declared, "The war against terrorism must go on with unrelenting vigor and an unconditional commitment."
Australia dispatched passenger jets and Hercules C-130 military transport planes to evacuate frightened tourists and the injured, and Australian Embassy officials said an estimated 120 injured people had been evacuated to Australia on military and commercial flights. Bali hospitals reported shortages of some medicines to treat the wounded.
The attack seemed to signal a shift in tactics by militant groups, diplomats said. They noted that earlier attacks were aimed at embassies and U.S. Navy vessels, including a threat that prompted the closing of the U.S. Embassy for six days last month.
But the Bali attack was aimed at civilians. "It's clear that whoever's behind these attacks is branching out to softer targets," a U.S. Embassy official said. "That's why we're concerned about it."
"The fact of the matter is, groups are targeting Westerners and using the most outrageous [means] to target foreigners," U.S. Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce said.
The attack came on the second anniversary of the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole off the coast of Yemen, in which 17 sailors died. In other attacks Saturday, police reported bombings near the U.S. Consulate in Bali and at the Philippine Consulate in the Indonesian city of Manado. No injuries were reported in either incident.
After an emergency cabinet meeting, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri flew here to see the devastation, which was centered at a popular nightspot, the Sari Club.
According to police, the attack came at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday, when a small, homemade bomb went off in front of a disco, Paddy's. That was followed by a huge blast across the street in front of the Sari Club. The second bomb, hidden in a Toyota Kijang, ripped into the open-air bar, triggering a massive burst of flames caused by gas cylinders used for cooking. Subsequent fires and explosions flattened about 20 buildings and much of the block, trapping victims under flaming debris.
"This bombing is a warning to all of us that terrorism is a real danger and potential threat to national security," Megawati said. "The Indonesian government will continue cooperation with the international community to overcome terrorism."
Indonesia has been under growing pressure to deal with Islamic militancy, and the attack Saturday brought new demands from abroad for action. Although Indonesia's Muslim population is overwhelmingly moderate, U.S. officials have said that the country's geography -- 17,000 islands offering myriad ports of entry that are difficult to control -- makes it easy for militants to penetrate and operate away from official scrutiny. Bali, a largely Hindu enclave, had been considered immune to political violence.
Megawati's chief security minister vowed that the attack in Bali would force the Indonesian government to strengthen its efforts against terrorism. "This incident has created a turning point, and from now on, the government will not be able to entertain doubts about harsh action," the minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, told Indonesian reporters, adding that the government had suspicions about who was responsible but would not provide details.
Boyce, the U.S. ambassador, told the Associated Press that although it was not possible to pin the attack on al Qaeda, there has been growing evidence that the network of Osama bin Laden has been reaching out to local militants.
"In recent weeks, we have been able to put to an end a year of speculation as to whether al Qaeda might be in Indonesia, or relocating to Indonesia, or using Indonesia as a base of operations, after the fall of Afghanistan," Boyce said.
Howard, the Australian prime minister, said: "We would like to see a maximum effort on the part of the Indonesian government to deal with the terrorist problem within their own borders. It's been a problem for a long time."
Jusuf Wanandi, founder of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, said Megawati's government must now act "for their own survival and for the republic's survival." Failure to do so "will damage the credibility of Indonesia." He added, "If she does not make a real effort to combat terrorism, the number one backlash will be from the international community."
Australia said it was sending an investigative team, including forensic specialists, to assist the Indonesians. The United States dispatched a regional security officer from the embassy in Jakarta and an FBI agent from Singapore to help, officials said.
[On Monday, Indonesian government officials said they welcome foreign investigative assistance if it is coordinated by the Indonesians. Gen. Endriartono Sutarto, the armed forces chief, said government officials would discuss how to coordinate their intelligence efforts, now run independently by the military, the police and the state intelligence agency.]
Before the Bali bombing, the United States had been urging Indonesia to investigate some earlier attacks more vigorously. In particular, U.S. officials want to see police actively pursue a Sept. 23 grenade explosion outside a U.S. Embassy house in central Jakarta. Indonesian and Western officials said the blast was a bungled attempt by Islamic militants to attack a U.S. target. The police have dismissed the grenade explosion as a debt-collection effort gone awry, unrelated to terrorism.
After the blast in Bali, the State Department said it was recalling nonessential diplomatic personnel. "These measures reflect our assessment of increased security concerns in Indonesia arising as a result of the most recent bombings," spokeswoman Jo-Anne Prokopowicz said.
The United States has also issued a travel warning advising Americans to defer travel to Indonesia, she said. The embassy in Jakarta and consulate in Surabaya will remain open, though they may closed occasionally for security reasons, she added.
The last time the embassy sent staff members home was during the 1998 riots that led to President Suharto's downfall.
The withdrawal of U.S. diplomats could further sour the confidence of investors and enthusiasm of tourists for Indonesia, economists said. The Indonesian economy is already struggling to recover from the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and tourism, a crucial component of the economy, was dealt a major setback by the Saturday attack on an island that offers tropical beaches, lush forests and a mystical aura.www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A21766-2002Oct13.htmlE-mail this article