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Bali death toll soars


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KUTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- The death toll from a series of bomb blasts on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali has climbed to over 150, with more than 200 injured, many with severe burns.

Indonesian authorities are investigating whether the explosions were the work of terrorists with initial evidence suggesting they may have been car bomb attacks.

The deadly explosions tore through two popular nightclubs late Saturday in the Kuta Beach tourist area, a destination popular with international visitors.

According to Robert Koster, a journalist on the scene, a blast occurred at one nightclub and then, as people streamed out, another larger blast tore through the Sari Club, which is usually crowded with tourists.

Koster said an entire city block was destroyed by the blast and subsequent fire that swept through the area.

Among the dead, injured and missing are nationals from Australia, Britain, France, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and Indonesia.

Another explosion occurred around the same time near the U.S. consular office on the island. It resulted in no immediate reports of casualties. Police believe it was a coordinated attack.

"If you look at the number of victims, this was indiscriminate and there is indeed a possibility this was terrorism," Indonesian police chief Dai Bachtiar told reporters before leaving Jakarta for Bali.

"It does look as though a terrorist organization was involved, and secondly it clearly looks as though this attack has been coordinated, and it clearly looks like an attack against foreign interests," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.

As yet there has been no claim of responsibility for the blasts.

Charred beyond recognition

Police are still clearing the scene and expect the death count to rise further.

At local hospitals, there were scenes of horror and grief with relatives and friends desperately searching for loved ones.

Identifying victims has proven difficult with many bodies charred beyond recognition. Only three bodies have been identified.

Bali is a popular holiday destination and particularly popular with Australians. Many of the tourists in Bali over the weekend were attending an international rugby tournament.

Downer said that he believed many Australians were killed in the blasts and about 40 were already hospitalized with 15 seriously injured.

"How many Australians are involved in those who have died, we don't have any numbers on that at all," he said. (Full story)

Downer said the Australian air force was sending a medical assistance and evacuation team to Bali on Sunday to take some of the injured to hospitals in Australia, and an RAAF aircraft had left Richmond Air Base in New South Wales.

U.S. embassy sources did not know whether any U.S. tourists were among the casualties in the disco explosion.

Eyewitness accounts

An official with the American Chamber of Commerce said the explosion rattled windows at least 6 miles (10 km) away.

The blast "felt like an earthquake," Arian Ardie, a vice president of the organization, told CNN.

Eyewitnesses spoke of chaos in the area after the explosion at the Sari nightclub as tourists were reveling on a typical Saturday night.

One eyewitness said windows on shops had been blown out hundreds of yards (meters) away.

"I saw one man, who looked Indonesian, whose head had been blown off," a local photographer, Murdani Usman, told Reuters news agency.

It was not clear whether the explosions in Bali were related to an earlier blast Saturday at the Philippine Consulate in the port city of Manado on North Sulawesi Island that caused minor damage but no injuries. Police Lt. Col. Henjke Kuwara said the small explosive device had been planted at the fence of building.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility in the attack in the Philippines. Manado is a transit point to the southern Philippines, close to where the Islamic militant Abu Sayyaf group is active.

Blasts follow warnings

There had been warnings recently from the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta of possible violence linked to extremist Muslim groups.

Some critics say Indonesia is the weakest link in the U.S.-led war on terror in Southeast Asia, partly because the government has concerns about cracking down on radical Muslim groups for fear of upsetting the vast moderate mainstream.

The U.S. State Department has had a travel warning in effect for Indonesia for more than a year, but Bali had been widely considered insulated from the troubles plaguing much of the rest of the archipelago. The warning specifically mentions Aceh, West Timor, Irian Jaya, and others.

The Bush administration is monitoring the situation and is in touch with the Indonesian authorities, a White House official told CNN.

On Thursday, the State Department warned posts abroad about the possibility of a terrorist attack by Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, alerting all posts to be at the "highest level of vigilance," a senior State Department official told CNN.

The warning followed the release of an audiotape, believed to be the voice of Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of bin Laden's top lieutenants, warning of future attacks by al Qaeda.

-- From CNN Correspondent Atika Shubert, Journalist Robert Koster and White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace.



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