At least one foreigner, a Dutch banker, was among the dead, while two US citizens and one from Canada were injured in the blast at the Marriott hotel in Jakarta.
The bomb ripped through the lobby of the hotel and set fire to dozens of nearby cars. Diners eating lunch in the hotel and a nearby office tower were showered with shards of glass.
“It was panic, mad panic,” said Stephen Mellor, a foreign resident who was parking his car 100m away at the time of the blast.
“The police and paramedics did what they could but they seemed overwhelmed,” he told Reuters. “People were almost hijacking cars in desperation and piling the injured into them to take them to hospital.”
The United States condemned the attack in Jakarta and offered President Megawati Sukarnoputri help in finding those responsible.
Forensic teams face gruesome
Indonesian officials said they suspected the hotel attack was the work of a suicide bomber although it was not immediately clear which organisation might be responsible.
However, the government warned recently that the Jama Islamiyya network, blamed for last October’s Bali bombing, might strike again. Tuesday’s hotel bombing comes two days before the first verdict is due in the trials of Muslim hardliners accused of the Bali attack.
US: Deplorable attack on the innocent
White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the bombing “a deplorable attack on innocent civilians”. He was speaking to reporters in Crawford, Texas, where President George Bush is spending a month-long working vacation at his ranch.
“We fully support President Megawati and her administration in their efforts to fight terror and root out terrorism and we stand ready to help in any way to help bring those responsible to justice.”
McClellan said he did not know who was behind the hotel blast.
“Information is still being learned at this point,” he said. “This is a reminder that we are still waging a global war on terrorism.”
One of the suspected Islamic militants on trial in Jakarta is Abu Bakar Bashir, an influential cleric accused of leading the Jama Islamiyya group.
He is accused of leading the organisation, which has been blamed for several attacks on Western targets in Indonesia and has been linked by the US to al-Qaida.