Indonesian authorities yesterday ordered a nationwide security crackdown after several foreign governments warned that terrorists were preparing to launch attacks against Western targets ahead of Christmas.
Australia's warning was unusually specific, saying it had "credible information" that terrorists could be targeting the Hilton Hotel chain in the country. The US, Britain, New Zealand and Japan also issued their own warnings but did not mention specific targets.
Ian Mckie, general manager of the Bali Hilton International hotel, said the US embassy told him on Wednesday there could be a possible attack on that day or yesterday on a Hilton hotel in Indonesia.
"They were specific in terms of dates. They said 15th or 16th of December," Mckie said by phone.
Indonesian police ratcheted up security at Hilton hotels yesterday.
In the Jakarta Hilton, police armed with automatic weapons stood guard next to Christmas trees hung with tinsel, searching bags and checking cars.
Hotel officials said they had not seen a mass exodus of guests, but that some groups had canceled functions in the light of the threat.
Several guests at the Jakarta Hilton and an adjoining apartment complex run by the hotel said they were leaving. Others brushed off the threats and said they would stay.
"We are moving," said an American man in the hotel lobby who gave his name as Pete. Asked if it was because of the threat, he said: "Yes, absolutely."
A few Western families in the Hilton Residence complex planned to leave temporarily, one family member said.
Suspected al-Qaeda linked militants have launched three bloody bombings on Western targets in the world's most populous Muslim nation in the past three years.
Despite scores of arrests, local police and foreign governments have repeatedly warned more attacks were likely. Several countries warn their citizens not to travel to the country at all.
"We are doing our utmost to increase our vigilance," said Jakarta Police spokesman Ciptono, who goes by a single name. "In light of the threat, the national police chief has ordered the Christmas and New Year's security operation, which was supposed to start Saturday, to begin immediately."
Ciptono was referring to the police's annual Christmas security operations, which normally involve the deployment of tens of thousands of officers to public places, including shopping malls, churches and hotels.
On Wednesday, Australia issued a fresh terror warning and the US issued one for Americans living in Indonesia. They were followed by advisories from New Zealand, Britain and Japan. Each warned of an increased risk of attacks.
Jakarta has complained that advisories are unfair in light of the global nature of terrorism, and that the panic they cause gives the terrorists a victory.
"If friendly countries issued that warning to Indonesia, it means we are kneeling to what the terrorists want," said Economic Minister Aburizal Bakrie.
Islamic militants linked to al-Qaeda have launched bomb attacks in recent years in Indonesia, hitting nightclubs in Bali, the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta and also the Australian embassy.
Mckie said some embassies, such as Australia, had requested their citizens at the Bali Hilton be told individually about the threat, which had been done.
"So far we haven't had anyone check out and no bookings cancelled at this stage. If there is going to be an impact there is usually a little bit of a delay factor," Mckie said.