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Indonesian Nightclub Bomb Kills 187
A bomb destroyed a crowded nightclub on the tourist island of Bali Saturday, sparking a devastating inferno that killed at least 187 people and wounded 300 - many of them foreigners. Officials said it was the worst terrorist act in Indonesia's history.

Authorities said a second bomb exploded near the island's U.S. consular office. Police said there were no casualties in that explosion.

The blasts came three days after the U.S. State Department issued a worldwide alert for terror attacks and highlighted fears by the United States and others that Indonesia - the most populous Muslim nation - is becoming a haven for terrorists and that al-Qaida operatives are active.

There was no claim of responsibility for the bombing in the Sari Club at the Kuta Beach resort, which officials said killed Indonesians along with Australians, Canadians, Britons, and Swedes. More than 300 people were injured, at least 90 of them critically, officials said.

"This is the worst act of terror in Indonesia's history," Gen. Da'i Bachtiar, the national police chief, told reporters at the site of the blast. "We have to be more alert for other acts of terror."

Bachtiar said 171 people were confirmed killed. But the private Metro TV station reported that 181 had perished.

Witnesses said that the blast came from a vehicle, but authorities have not said if they think it was a car bomb.

The explosion went off about 11 p.m. and sparked a fire which collapsed the nightclub's flimsy roof, trapping hundreds of revelers inside, officials said.

"The place was packed, and it went up within a millisecond," Simon Quayle, the coach of an Australian rules football team, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Quayle, whose team was visiting Bali, said he made it safely out of the building but eight of his 19 players were missing.

The blaze then engulfed a nearby nightclub before racing through about 20 other buildings on the block, heavily damaging many of them.

The blast left a large crater where the club entrance had been. The neighborhood is Bali's biggest tourist area - a maze of clubs, restaurants, shops, hotels and beach bungalows. It caters to a younger crowd of tourists and surfers.

The second explosive detonated a few minutes after the first in the nearby city of Denpasar, Bali's capital, about 300 feet from a U.S. consular office, Suyatno said.

A bomb squad was investigating both blasts but Indonesian officials declined to provide a motive or blame any group.

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer blamed it on terrorism. "It looks as though this was a terrorist attack," he said on Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.

He said he believed the Sari nightclub was targeted because it was popular with Australians and other foreigners.

He said Australians were almost certainly among the dead, estimating that at least 40 Australians were injured, about 15 of them seriously.

Wayan Putra, a driver at the nearby Poppies hotel, said that after the blast, hundreds of townspeople rushed toward the nightclub but could not get near it because of the intense flames.

White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said Washington was monitoring the situation and working with Indonesian authorities. U.S. officials said they didn't know if there were any Americans among the casualties.

The blasts occurred on the second anniversary of the al-Qaida linked attack against USS Cole off Yemen that left 17 sailors dead. Australia has also been one of the United States' staunchest allies in its war on terror and has 150 elite troops serving in Afghanistan.

Indonesian officials have denied the claims that terrorists are using Indonesia as a base. But the U.S. Embassy in the national capital of Jakarta closed Sept. 10 and remained shut for six days due to what U.S. officials said were threats possibly linked to al-Qaida. And Americans traveling in central Java were warned to be vigilant.

Days later, a hand grenade exploded in a car near a house belonging to the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, killing one man. There was conflicting information as to whether the device was meant to harm Americans.

Authorities in Malaysia and Singapore have alleged that members of Jemaah Islamiyah - a group said to be seeking to set up an Islamic state in Southeast Asia - are based in Indonesia.

Singapore has been pressing Indonesia to arrest Jemaah Islamiyah's alleged leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, who lives in Indonesia. But Indonesian officials say they have no evidence against him.

Putra, the driver, said dozens of injured were evacuated by scooter drivers who normally ferry tourists from one part of the resort to another.

Australia tourist Rachel Hughes, 18, said she and a friend had just arrived in Kuta when the blast occurred.

"Standing in the foyer of the Bounty Hotel, people were just walking in, blood dripping off them, burns to their face, skin coming off them," she told Australia's Seven Network.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia had sent an air force plane with a medical team to Bali to help the hard-pressed local hospitals and to possibly evacuate wounded Australians.

National carrier Qantas also was scheduling extra flights to bring people home. Earlier the government had said all flights to the island had been suspended.

Police and the military restricted access in and out of Bali from Denpasar's Ngurah Rai airport and the area seaports in Benoa, Gilimanuk and Padang Bai, said Lt. Col. Yatim Suyatno, a police spokesman.

Although Indonesia has been wracked by ethnic and religious violence since the overthrow four years ago of former dictator Suharto, Bali itself has remained quiet. Saturday's bombings are likely to be a huge blow to Indonesia's lucrative tourism industry and might also undermine government efforts to revive the economy.

"Bali has always, always been safe. We depend on tourism for our livelihood. Our name has been smeared by this horrible blast," said Putra, the driver.

(China Daily October 14, 2002)

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