Published October 14, 2002
WASHINGTON – President Bush called a car bombing in Indonesia that killed at least 188 people, including two Americans, a "heinous act" of terrorism, as the State Department ordered nonessential employees and all dependents to leave the country.
The bombing Saturday, on the second anniversary of the Al Qaeda-linked attack against the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen that killed 17 sailors, led the administration to evaluate its own official presence in the world's largest Muslim country.
The State Department had warned last week that Indonesia was becoming a home to terrorists, and on Sunday ordered all but its essential employees to leave the country. It also advised all U.S. citizens to defer travel to Indonesia, and suggested that Americans now there leave.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bomb that ripped through a nightclub packed with foreign tourists on the vacation island of Bali. Along with the two killed, three Americans were reported among the more than 300 people injured.
Speaking after a Cabinet meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia's defense minister, Matori Abdul Djalil, blamed Al Qaeda and its extremist allies for the attack.
"We are sure Al Qaeda is here," he said Monday. "The Bali bomb blast is related to Al Qaeda with the cooperation of local terrorists."
It was the first time a top government official has implicated the terror network in Saturday's bombing.
The State Department said late Sunday it could not release names or other details about the victims, pending further investigation.
In a statement, Bush did not mention the Al Qaeda network or any other terrorist group by name, but he said the attack was "a cowardly act designed to create terror and chaos."
"On behalf of the people of the United States, I condemn this heinous act," he said.
"The world must confront this global menace, terrorism," Bush said. "We must together challenge and defeat the idea that the wanton killing of innocents advances any cause or supports any aspirations. And we must call this despicable act by its rightful name: murder."
After attending a morning church service, the president was asked if he had said a prayer for victims of the attack. "Every day," he replied.
Bush said the United States has offered Indonesia assistance "to help bring these murderers to justice," and officials said U.S. investigators already were at the scene, a resort favored by foreigners.
Authorities said a second bomb exploded Saturday about 300 feet from the U.S. consular office on Bali but caused no casualties.
"There is a definite terrorist link here," said Sen. Richard Shelby, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "We don't know all the facts. Is it directly Al Qaeda? Is it an affiliated group? I believe this is the beginning of a lot more we're going to see, perhaps in the U.S.," Shelby, R-Ala., said on ABC's This Week.
Jo-Anne Prokopowicz, a State Department spokeswoman, said: "These incidents are under investigation. I don't want to speculate about possible perpetrators, motivations or connections."
The bombings came three days after the State Department issued a worldwide alert for terror attacks and renewed fears that Indonesia was becoming a home for terrorists, with Al Qaeda operatives active there.
After the bombings, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta said on its Web site the attack "comes on the heels of previous warnings of Americans at risk, and highlights the mounting threat to Americans wherever they are in Indonesia."
U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce told The Associated Press that evidence in recent weeks had confirmed months of suspicions that Al Qaeda operatives are present in Indonesia and had reached out to local extremists.
Terror threats closed the embassy for six days in September. An attack near a house that belongs to the embassy ended with the assailant accidentally killing himself with a hand grenade.
The United States and Indonesia's neighbors have criticized the Jakarta government for failing to move swiftly against figures suspected of involvement with Al Qaeda and a regional affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah.
White House spokesman Sean McCormack said, "Indonesia is a strong partner in fighting the war against terrorism. We have good, ongoing cooperation with the government, and that will continue."