JAKARTA, Indonesia – A suspected homicide bombing at the Marriott Hotel (search) created lunchtime carnage in Jakarta's (search) business district Tuesday, killing 15 people and wounding nearly 150, setting cars afire and scattering glass shards for blocks in a bloody reminder of the continuing threat of terrorism in the world's most populous Muslim nation.
The blast came two days before a verdict in the trial of a key suspect in the Bali (search) nightclub bombings last Oct. 12 that killed 202 people, many of them foreigners. A Dutch banker was among the dead Tuesday, and at least 10 foreigners, including two Americans, were reported injured.
The attack occurred on the first day of testimony in another bombing case by the alleged leader of Jemaah Islamiyah (search), which has been blamed for the Bali bombings. Authorities have linked the group to Al Qaeda and say it hopes to create an Islamic state across Southeast Asia.
Singapore's Straits Times newspaper reported Wednesday that Jemaah Islamiyah claimed responsibility for the bombing. The paper said the claim came from a member of the group, but it did not explain how it obtained the statement or provide other details. It couldn't be immediately determined if the claim was authentic.
The governor of Jakarta, Sutiyoso, said the attack was "very likely" carried out by a suicide bomber. The national police chief, Gen. Da'i Bachtiar, said the van carrying the bomb was moving at the time of the explosion.
Police said they planned on issuing a sketch of one of two men they suspected recently bought the vehicle used in the bombings, said national police detective chief Erwin Mappaseng, adding that investigators got the description of the man from the car's previous owner.
Police said Wednesday that last month they arrested four alleged Jemaah Islamiyah members and seized documents that showed attackers had planned to target the area around the Marriott.
"There was a warning that there were some targets and we have been anticipating an attack," said Jakarta police spokesman Prasetyo, who like many Indonesians uses a single name.
World leaders expressed horror and outrage. The White House called it a "deplorable attack on innocent civilians" and declared its support for the Indonesian government's fight against terrorism.
The Marriott -- a frequent site for U.S. Embassy functions and a popular destination for foreigners -- was shattered just after noon when the bomb exploded on the driveway leading to its front entrance.
The blast smashed many windows in the 33-story hotel and smoke from burning cars blackened the outside of lower floors. The lobby ceiling caved in on charred sofas and overturned tables.
"Women ran out of the hotel screaming, 'Help! Help!"' said Supria, a construction worker. He said rescuers used fire extinguishers to douse people engulfed in flames.
"I thought a plane must have hit the building," said office worker Iin, who like many Indonesians uses a single name.
Inside a ground-floor restaurant at an adjacent building, half-eaten pasta dishes sat on tables covered in broken glass. At an abandoned Marriott restaurant, a table held a plate of fish, salad and corn on the cob, alongside bottles of Hunt's ketchup and extra hot chili sauce.
Ceiling and wall panels lay in the street outside the hotel. The blast damaged the embassies of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark in the adjacent Rajawali building, but no staffers were injured, officials said.
"People were screaming, panicking," said Sodik, a witness. "I thought it was an earthquake."
Puddles of blood and broken glass could be seen for two blocks around the Marriott. The Indonesian Red Cross put the death toll at 15 and said nearly 150 people were wounded, including two Americans.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip T. Reeker said no Americans were killed. He said one of the two injured Americans was hospitalized with burns and the other was treated and released. Their identities were not released.
It was just under 10 months ago that suspected Islamic militants blew up two nightclubs on the idyllic island of Bali and catapulted Indonesia into the front lines of the international war on terrorists.
The government has won praise for its efforts to crack down on extremists and bring those responsible for the Bali attacks to justice. In recent months, tourism and foreign investment had begun to rebound, and the U.S. Embassy in April gave permission for staffers to bring back their families.
All that has now been thrown into question.
The Indonesian currency, the rupiah, fell more than 2 percent Tuesday and the Jakarta stock exchange closed 3.1 percent lower. Businesses and hotels reported immediate cancellations.
"This is another very, very tragic event for Indonesia's efforts of recovery," said Anders Backman of the Swedish Embassy.
Bachtiar, the police chief, said officials suspected the bomb was carried in an Indonesian-made Kijang van. He said its chassis number had been found along with the vehicle's registration number.
"From the things we found at the crime scene it looks very much like the bomb in Bali," Bachtiar said. "The situation is like it was in Bali."
Suspicions immediately pointed toward Jemaah Islamiyah.
The group's alleged leader, Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, took the stand for the first time Tuesday at his trial on treason charges tied to Christmas Eve church bombings in 2000. Testifying before the Marriott explosion, he admitted giving his blessing to Islamic militants who trained in the Philippines and in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
Bashir, however, denies any link to terrorism.
About three dozen people suspected of belonging to Jemaah Islamiyah have been arrested in the Bali blasts and could be executed if convicted.
Having seen the economic fallout from the Bali bombings, Indonesian leaders moved quickly Tuesday to bolster security.
Security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the government had ordered strict security checks at the airport and other public places, and said officials would announce even stronger security measures Wednesday.
Calling the blast a "diabolical and inhumane terrorist attack," he added: "We cannot allow any space for terrorism."
President Megawati Sukarnoputri toured the wreckage and visited the wounded at a hospital. On Friday, she gave a state-of-the-nation address calling militants "a terrifying threat" and vowing to "dismantle the terrorist network to its roots."
Among world leaders, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo condemned the bombing as a "dastardly act." German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer sent Indonesia his "deepest sympathies."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said it was a "a deplorable attack on innocent civilians."
"We stand fully prepared to assist in any way possible to bring those responsible to justice," McClellan said.
An FBI spokeswoman, Susan Whitson, said that because no Americans were killed, there were no immediate plans to send investigators to Indonesia, where she said one FBI agent is on temporary duty at the U.S. Embassy. "However, if the Indonesians request our help, we will certainly provide assistance," she said.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the attack "senseless killing."
"Every attempt should be made to arrest its perpetrators and hold them accountable," he said.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who stayed at the Marriott recently and whose country lost 88 citizens in the Bali blasts, offered to send investigators.
"If, as it appears likely, it is a terrorist attack, it is yet another reminder that the fight against JI (Jemaah Islamiyah) and other groups goes on and it will be a fight that will take years and require the cooperation of all of the agencies in the region," Howard said.
Among the dead was Dutch citizen Hans Winkelmolen, 49, who was winding up a three-year assignment as president of PT Radobank Duta Indonesia, a subsidiary of the Dutch cooperative bank Radobank. He was eating in Marriott's restaurant with his successor, Tony Costa, when the bomb went off, company spokesman Jan Dost said. Costa was hospitalized.