The Fire This Time

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Still, as the familiar black-suited police forensic officers began to scour the bomb scene for evidence, Jakarta soon returned to some semblance of normalcy. Although international schools and some embassies and consulates remained closed in the days after the attack, there was no talk of mass evacuation among the city's expatriate population, as there was after Bali. The main Jakarta Stock Exchange index plunged about 4% in the hours after the blast but recovered to close less than 1% lower by the end of the day before finishing the week at a four-month high. The story was much the same for the rupiah, which initially weakened against the dollar but recovered by the end of the week. "People are getting used to the idea that this sort of thing is going to happen," says Hans Vriens, head of the Jakarta office of the political-consulting group APCO. "They know that the police are doing a pretty good job of tracking [the culprits] down. It's becoming like living in London when the I.R.A. was bombing there, or in Spain with the eta attacks." Arthur Woo, an economist at HSBC Global Markets in Hong Kong, adds that the latest bombing is unlikely to have a significant effect on Indonesia's economic growth, observing that "financial markets have become more desensitized [to terrorist attacks]." Even in the notoriously vulnerable tourism trade, Indonesia's biggest foreign-exchange earner after oil, experts see relatively minor fallout. Alistair Speirs, chairman of the Indonesian chapter of the Pacific Asia Travel Association in Jakarta, expects only a 5-10% drop in tourist arrivals in coming weeks. "I would see business travel back in Indonesia in a month," he says.

The biggest impact may be political. President Megawati Sukarnoputri faces challenger Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired General who was her chief Security Minister until a falling out in April, in a presidential election runoff on Sept. 20. Although both candidates have similar stated positions on terrorism and the need to contain Islamic extremism, Yudhoyono has been far more outspoken on the issue, and many might expect him to have more success in preventing future attacks. "This could help [Yudhoyono], because it will reinforce feelings in the public that Indonesia needs a firmer leader than Megawati," says political columnist Bara Hasibuan. "His military background may look more appealing now." Both candidates were evidently well aware of the effect the bombing might have on the election: Yudhoyono toured the bomb site within hours of the explosion, and Megawati appeared a few hours later, after hastily flying back from a royal wedding in Brunei.

In Australia, too, the bombing was having an impact ahead of the country's Oct. 9 general elections. The Australian newspaper described how the opposition Labor Party's leaders huddled with their advisers the day after the blast to discuss how best to cope with the very "headlines it had been dreading"—an act of terrorism on the nation's doorstep that might incline voters toward the hard-line policies of incumbent Howard.

But as the forensic investigation gradually revealed more details of the scope and planning of the attack, it remained unclear whether the bombers aimed to influence voters in either Australia or Indonesia—or whether they were simply reminding the world of their existence. Police said the bombers packed roughly 200 kilograms of potassium chlorate into a Daihatsu pickup truck that was tracked by security cameras as it drove along Jalan H.R. Rasuna Said, made a U-turn and approached the heavily fortified embassy, parking about eight meters from the main gates. The subsequent explosion left a crater some three meters wide and 47 centimeters deep and obliterated a 10-meter section of the fence ringing the squat, five-story embassy, which was designed in the 1990s precisely to survive such an attack. The height and shape of the building, the extra walls and the windows reinforced with a special film to prevent them shattering all helped deflect the blast. "Did the design work in protecting the embassy?" asks a uniformed Australian Federal Police officer at the site. "Draw your own conclusions." He points to the handful of windows in the building that were badly damaged in contrast to the hundreds of glass panes blown out in office buildings along the street, some as many as 400 meters away. The concussion from the blast, says the officer, "basically bounced off the embassy" and "zigzagged up and down the street. That's why you have so many windows broken so far away."

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