The Fire This Time

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Eri Suheri can be seen most mornings in the same spot in front of the Metropolitan Medical Center, an upscale hospital located in the heart of Jakarta's Kuningan business district. A skinny twentysomething with a toothy smile, Eri stands next to his motorbike, hoping one of the stream of patients, relatives and medical staff emerging from the hospital will dole out 10,000 rupiah—about a dollar—for the privilege of being ferried through the city's notoriously snarled traffic on the back of his bike. Last Thursday, Eri slurped down a late morning bowl of breakfast noodles at a street-food stall situated between the hospital and the adjacent Australian embassy. At 10:15 a.m., as he turned to walk back to his usual spot, Eri was briefly blinded by a searingly bright flash, then hit by a thunderous blow to his back. "The ground underneath me shook, and I was thrown off my feet, landing a few meters away," Eri recalls. "I looked behind me, and the whole place had turned to ruins. Pieces of glass were flying in the air; I saw many people running, holding their wounded heads, blood streaming through their hands."

Though his ears hurt and he couldn't hear much, Eri helped ferry the wounded to the nearby hospital. "I saw a policeman lying helpless on the road, one of his legs missing, while I was carrying a woman, her head covered with blood. She was screaming all the way that her eyes hurt." After almost an hour, Eri finally sat down on a curb to rest. "My legs were shaking from exhaustion," he says. Looking around for the first time since the explosion, he saw that the ground was still littered with human-body parts and pools of blood. A severed leg lay partly covered in newspaper between two charred tree trunks on the road divider. "It was horrible," he says, still trembling several hours later. "Horrible."

For many Indonesians, last week's bomb blast, and its accompanying images of bloody corpses and twisted, charred metal, were grimly familiar. The explosion was the third major terrorist attack to rock the country in less than two years: in October 2002 bombs on the resort island of Bali killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, the single largest group; and 12 died in an attack a little more than a year ago on Jakarta's JW Marriott hotel. This time, the death toll was nine Indonesians, killed by what police say was a car bomb detonated by two suicide bombers on the curbside near the high metal gates of the Australian embassy. Some 182 others were wounded, many of them office workers sprayed with flying glass from the hundreds of windows that were shattered in buildings that line Jalan H.R. Rasuna Said, a six-lane thoroughfare that serves as one of central Jakarta's main traffic arteries. Although no Australians were killed (an Indonesian gardener and a guard at the embassy died), Canberra viewed the blast as an attack on Australia. Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch ally of U.S. President George W. Bush in the war on terrorism, dispatched Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty, who played a big part in the Bali investigation, to Jakarta. Howard vowed that Australia would not "be intimidated by acts of terror" and pledged to upgrade security at overseas missions and domestic airports.

Like the previous bombings, say authorities, last week's blast bore the hallmarks of Jemaah Islamiah (J.I.), a regional network of militants bent on establishing a pan-Islamic state across Southeast Asia. Indeed, a day after the bombing, Howard told reporters that Indonesian police received a text message 45 minutes before the blast warning that Western embassies would be attacked unless Islamic cleric Abubakar Ba'asyir—whom Indonesian authorities believe is J.I.'s spiritual leader and whom they are holding under antiterrorism laws—was released; the police say they did not receive any such message. (Abubakar has consistently denied involvement in terrorist activities and is suing TIME for a 2002 article that accused him of links to terrorism.) Looking ahead, added Howard, intelligence garnered by both the Indonesians and Australians indicates that "the number of [J.I.] operatives is sufficiently large to support the fear there could be another attack."

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