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Bomb Blast Targets Australian Embassy in Indonesia - 2004-09-09

A huge bomb blast in Indonesia has killed at least 8 people and injured more than 160. The target was the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, giving rise to speculation that Islamic militants were behind the attack.

The bomb exploded just outside the Australian Embassy at around 10:30 a.m. local time, Thursday morning. At least one of the dead was an Indonesian guard at the embassy, but Australian officials said no diplomats were killed.

The vast majority of the injured also were Indonesians, most of them passersby or workers in a nearby office.

"I was in the embassy, fortunately in the back part, so I heard the blast and felt a shuddering sensation and there was smoke going up all around the place, in some parts the embassy ceiling was falling in," said Harold Crouch, an Australian academic who was visiting the embassy at the time of the blast.

Indonesia's police chief, General Dai Bachtiar, said Thursday that the attack conformed to the pattern used by Jemaah Islamiyah (J.I.), the group behind both the Bali bombing in 2002 and last year's attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta. J.I. has been linked to the al Qaida terror network and claims to be fighting to establish an Islamic state across much of Southeast Asia.

The Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, also said it appeared to be an attack by J.I.

"It's clearly a terrorist attack," said Mr. Downer. "It was outside the Australian Embassy. We would have to conclude it was directed against Australia."

The explosion devastated a large area around the embassy, but the embassy itself had been strengthened to withstand attack and suffered relatively little damage.

In a nearby hospital, doctors set up an emergency treatment station to cope with the large number of people wounded by flying glass.

In a small room, covered by white sheets, lay the bodies of three men.

J.I. has been disrupted by numerous arrests over the past two years, but some key members, including the group's master bomb maker, Azahari Husin, is still at large, and observers had warned that the militants were preparing to strike again.

Indeed, the United States, Australia, and other Western countries had warned in recent weeks of possible attacks in Indonesia. On Tuesday, the United States strengthened its warning, urging Americans to avoid Western-owned hotels and places were foreigners often gather, such as popular restaurants.

Australia and Indonesia have worked closely to curtail J.I. since the Bali bombing two years ago. Eighty eight Australian tourists were among the 202 people killed in that attack.