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Indonesia Severed Head

Indonesia Severed Head

By Richard S. Ehrlich

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- This densely-populated capital has descended into gloomy suspense after police identified a severed head found in the wreckage of the JW Marriott Hotel as that of a suspected Islamic extremist responsible for the car bomb which killed 10 people and wounded 150.

Authorities now fear revenge attacks after a court on Bali island sentenced Amrozi bin Nurhasyim on Thursday (Aug. 7) to death for his role in the October 2, 2002 explosion which obliterated Paddy's Bar on Kuta beach, killing 202 people -- mostly foreign tourists.

Heightening the anxiety, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer warned Islamic extremists may unleash more terrorist attacks on Aug. 17.

"The 17th of August is Indonesia's National Day and that is a day when we think it is possible there could be a terrorist attack in the central Jakarta area," Mr. Downer told reporters on Wednesday (Aug. 6).

As a result of Indonesia's murky, complex and deadly struggle to combat terrorism, people in Jakarta have become skittish and apprehensive about life in this bustling and increasingly eerie city where virtually anything or anyone can kill.

"I want to kill the terrorists!" screeched a smiling waitress in Jakarta during a brief discussion about the Marriott and Bali bombings while she served breakfast.

"They are very bad," she added, before giggling with nervousness and glancing at a TV news broadcast which repeatedly showed Mr. Amrozi's toothy smile and thumbs-up response when the judge in Bali sentenced him to death by firing squad.

Several miles away at the American-owned JW Marriott Hotel, a few survivors of the car bomb waited at the hotel's rear entrance on Friday (Aug. 8) to collect belongings which they had abandoned during their escape.

"I am very jumpy, very jittery," said Ian Bowen, an Australian businessman who survived the lunch-time explosion at the 33-floor JW Marriott Hotel building which includes a restaurant and international corporate offices.

"We were sitting in a private room in the rear of the restaurant at the hotel, having a meeting, when I heard a noise," Melbourne-based Mr. Bowen said in an interview at the Marriott.

"All I remember is seeing this orange fireball, an orange light, because there was a glass wall and glass door. Outside there was fire and smoke and sparks.

"I lived in Jakarta from 1997 to 2001 and have just started to come back here for business. For me, personally, it is becoming more of a concern here because recently, when I previously arrived, a bomb went off at Jakarta's airport the same morning, and then, a couple of years ago, a bomb went off in the stock exchange across the road from where we were living.

"I am very sensitive to noise at the moment, and not comfortable being in a confined place, such as a traffic jam or shopping area," Mr. Bowen said.

At some shopping venues, police with assault rifles and hand-held metal detectors diligently checked vehicles entering parking areas, but the job overwhelmed even their best intentions.

Jakarta is a sprawling, chaotic, urban landscape jam-packed with people, large vehicles and tall buildings -- ripe for crafty, secretive, experienced bombers who can physically blend in with the Muslim-majority population.

In the Marriott Hotel blast, most of the dead and injured were Indonesians, including drivers who parked their taxis at the modern building's entrance.

Only one foreigner, Dutch national Hans Winkelmolen who was president of Bank Robobank Indonesia, was identified among the dead.

The Marriott Hotel, restaurant and offices, however, were frequented by foreigners and upper- class Indonesians who were apparently the target of the car bomb.

American, Indonesian and other investigators meanwhile were also searching for Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, a suspected Jemaah Islamiyah bomb- making expert, who escaped from a Manila, Philippines jail in July.

Another suspected Jemaah Islamiyah leader, an elusive man named Riduan Isamuddin -- and known as Hambali -- was also being pursued by frustrated U.S. and international authorities who have trailed him for more than two years.

There was no public evidence that Mr. al-Ghozi or Mr. Hambali were involved in the Marriott Hotel bombing, but their expertise and leadership roles have caused concern that they may be plotting a fresh terrorist campaign in Southeast Asia.

In a rare public comment about terrorism, meanwhile, President Megawati Sukarnoputri on Friday (Aug. 8) called for a global coalition to deal with the attacks.

"It became clear that no single country or group of countries could overcome this threat alone," Mrs. Megawati said in a lecture aimed at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which includes Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

"In Indonesia's view, which is shared by the rest of the ASEAN members, it would take a global coalition involving all nations, all societies, religions and cultures to defeat this threat," she said.

Discovery of the severed head unnerved many people because Indonesia's TV and print media repeatedly displayed a police photograph of the bloodied, scarred head hoping the public could identify its blistered, damaged face.

National Police Commissioner, General Erwin Mappaseng, told reporters the head belonged to Asmar Latin Sani, 28, from Indonesia's western island of Sumatra.

Mr. Asmar allegedly drove a Toyota packed with explosives to the entrance of the Marriott Hotel in a suicide mission on Aug. 5.

The bomb's mix of explosive materials, the use of a car and other clues indicated similarities with the Bali bombing.

The severed head was initially identified by two alleged bombers from the Jemaah Islamiyah extremist group who were in police custody after their arrest in June for explosions in eastern Sumatra, Gen. Mappaseng said.

"They (the two) recognized the face based on a scar on the head and a mole on the right neck," Gen. Mappaseng said.

Confirmation came from Mr. Asmar's family who also recognized the face and scar, the police commissioner said.

The two jailed Sumatra bombing suspects, identified as Sardono Siliwangi and Mohammad Rais, may have recruited Mr. Asmar into Jemaah Islamiyah, police said.

Jemaah Islamiyah, along with other regional Muslim extremists, are fighting to create an Islamic "caliphate" in Southeast Asia by uniting the Muslim-majority regions of the southern Philippines, southern Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

Jemaah Islamiyah was created in the mid-1980s, allegedly by a couple of Indonesian Muslim clerics.

Jemaah Islamiyah grew lethal after allegedly forming links with Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, possibly receiving some training and financing from al-Qaeda, according to international investigators.

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 25 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His website is

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