Indonesia suspects al-Qaeda links to Bali bombings

Indonesian authorities have begun investigating the three bomb blasts that ripped through crowded restaurants on the Indonesian resort island of Bali Saturday night, killing 26 people and wounding at least 100 others.

Indonesian authorities said Sunday it suspected two Malaysians with links to al-Qaeda responsible for the deadly suicide attacks in Bali. Indonesian anti-terror official Maj.-Gen. Ansyaad Mbai said the two were members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a network widely viewed as the regional arm of al-Qaeda. They are also accused of orchestrating the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, as well as two other attacks in the Indonesian capital in 2003 and 2004.

On Saturday night, three bomb blasts ripped through crowded restaurants on the Indonesian resort island, killing 26 people and wounding at least 100 others, including three Canadians.

The near-simultaneous blasts came almost exactly three years after two nightclubs in Bali were bombed, killing 202 people, with two Canadians among the dead.

"The modus operandi of Saturday's attacks is the same as the earlier ones," said Mbai. He identified the two suspected organizers as Azahari bin Husin and Noordin Mohamed Top.

He didn't believe that the two were among the three suicide attackers.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono branded Saturday's blasts as acts of terrorism and vowed to catch those responsible. Last month, he had said he was worried about new attacks and called for increased security.

A spokesman for the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, Marty Natalagawa, said the investigation was already underway. "The focus now, apart from the obvious one of saving lives and treating the injured, is on the gathering of the evidence, the material evidence on the ground at the two bombing sites so the police can quickly ascertain who perpetrated these heinous and cowardly acts," he said.

Officials say 18,000 police are now on standby to guard key areas in the nation's capital.

Kenneth Conboy, an American security expert in Jakarta and author of an upcoming book on southeast Asian terrorism, said Saturday's bombings looked to him like the work of Jemaah Islamiyah.

"They saw the 2002 Bali bombing as their only true success because it inflicted foreign casualties, and the collateral damage weren't Muslims," he said.

Jemaah Islamiah, which in English means Islamic Community, wants to establish an Islamic state across southeast Asia -- including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the southern Philippines, and southern Thailand. In October 2002, the United States officially designated it a terrorist organization.

Officials at Bali's Sanglah hospital, near the island's capital of Denpasar, said 25 dead had been brought in, although the Paris-based Agence France-Presse had reported that a French diplomat in Indonesia said the death toll was 32.

Reuters reported that 15 of the dead have been identified -- 12 Indonesians, including a six-year-old boy, two Australians and a Japanese national.

The wounded are known to have included three Canadians, 49 Indonesians, 17 Australians, six South Koreans, three Americans, three Japanese and one Briton.

Dan McTeague, the parliamentary secretary to Canada's minister of foreign affairs, says three Canadians were in one of the cafes, and suffered minor injuries. They have been treated at a clinic and released.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew said in a statement late Saturday that there are no known Canadian deaths.

"While the details are still unfolding, this is clearly an act directed against innocent civilians. The perpetrators must be found and brought to justice," he said. "Canada condemns all acts of terrorism and is committed to working with Indonesia in the fight against international terrorism."

Indonesian police confirmed that three blasts had taken place at separate restaurants packed with evening diners -- two at outdoor seafood cafes on Jimbaran Beach, and one 30 kilometres away at a noodle and steak house in downtown Kuta, an area surrounded by shops and jammed with pedestrians.

They have not said how the bombs were delivered or if suicide attackers were responsible.

Australian journalist Sean Mulcahy was in Kuta when one of the bombs went off.

"I've travelled through war zones for my job as a journalist and this is something that you would expect in Afghanistan or Iraq, the emergency rooms at some of the hospitals, the ground is just covered in blood, there's people walking, arms missing, it is just a war zone," he said.

Ketut Suartana said he was eating at Jimbaran when the first bomb exploded. The second came just minutes later.

"We were eating and suddenly it just went dark. I tried to run but I kept falling over. Then the second blast happened," said Suartana, lying on a hospital bed with scratch marks over his face and chest.

"People were in panic. I just tried to save myself."

Witnesses had reported seeing dismembered bodies at the scene, many of them foreigners.

The events of Saturday are a nightmare for Bali's tourism industry --the economic lifeblood of the island-- which had only recently begun recovering from the blasts of 2002.

In the last 18 months, Bali hotels and restaurants had said their business was exceeding pre-2002 levels and that they were looking forward to a busy Christmas and New Year. Tourism Minister Jero Wacik predicted a sharp drop in tourism, but said he hoped the island would bounce back.

The United States has condemned the bombings and offered to help.

With files from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation