Sat, Sep 11, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Indonesian police were warned about attack on embassy

CAR BOMBING The Australian foreign minister said authorities were informed that the bomb would go off if a militant was not released

AFP , SYDNEY

Indonesian police received threats of an attack against a Western embassy in Jakarta 45 minutes before the deadly car bombing of Australia's mission, Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday.

Howard said police received a message at 9:30am demanding the release of Abu Bakar Bashir, an elderly Islamic cleric accused of guiding the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group, who is awaiting trial in Jakarta.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who was in Jakarta to follow up on the attack, said the message was an SMS (short message service) text sent to a police mobile phone.

"Apparently at 9:30 yesterday morning, the Indonesian police received a message to the effect that if Bashir were not released, Western embassies would be threatened with bombs," Howard said.

The car bombing of Australia's embassy occurred about 10:15am, killing nine Indonesians and wounding more than 180 people, including a five-year-old Australian girl entering the embassy to get her first passport, Howard said.

The message was not passed on to Australian Federal Police working with the Indonesians until nearly 6:00pm, Howard said.

Indonesian police denied there had been an SMS warning, but said they were checking Howard's claim.

"No, it's not true, and at the moment we're trying to investigate the information regarding this," Indonesia's chief detective Suyitno Landung said.

Howard declined to blame Indonesian authorities for the delay in passing on the threat.

"Let's understand, you get something at 9:30am and a bomb goes off 45 minutes later, it's not necessarily reasonable to condemn the Indonesian police for that," he said.

"In fairness to the Indonesian police, they get a lot of messages. I don't even know whether it was in any way a bona fide message. The source of it, I'm sure, is being checked," he said.

Howard, who spent the day receiving briefings from Australian police and intelligence agencies as well as from Downer, said there was mounting evidence the attack was a suicide bombing carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah and that the group planned further attacks.

He said traces of explosives indicate the bomb was similar to that used by Jemaah Islamiyah to blow up two nightclubs in Bali in October 2002, when 202 people were killed, including 88 Australians, and again last year in an attack on the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 people.

"The intelligence agencies have warned that there is the possibility of another attack of this kind in Jakarta," Howard told reporters in Canberra.

The US and Australia issued warnings last week of a possible terrorist threat against Western hotels in Jakarta, but they made no mention of embassies.

Howard said yesterday that new intelligence reports on Wednesday indicated the threat had shifted from hotels to other targets, but they did not specify what these might be.

Also see story:

Bombing silences Aussie politics

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