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Indonesia ponders al Qaeda link

By Amy Chew

Military sources are suggesting the bombs were not made in Indonesia
Military sources are suggesting the bombs were not made in Indonesia

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Top Indonesian security officials say Bali's series of deadly bomb blasts was a terrorist act and are investigating whether it was linked to al Qaeda.

"This is a terrorist and not a criminal act," a top security source told CNN.

"I believe it was the work of local people who may have links or were working with foreign groups," the official added.

Asked whether it was linked to al Qaeda, he said: "We don't know. We are investigating."

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

The blast shocked the country as the island resort has been a safe haven, free from the violence which erupts sporadically in other parts of Indonesia.

While embassies periodically issue advisory warnings on travel to Indonesia, Bali is usually exempted.

Indonesian national police chief Dai Bachtiar said the bomb blasts were proof of the existence of terrorist acts in the country and apologized for the deadly incident.

He said police were now raising the level of security for foreigners in Indonesia.

Apart from the Bali blasts, there was also an explosion in the city of Manado on Sulawesi island at the Philippine Consulate that caused minor damage but no injuries on Saturday.

A military source in Jakarta told CNN the blasts in Bali and Manado were connected and were the work of professionals.

"If you look at the explosions, they all took place almost at the same time. The bombs which exploded in Bali were made of high and low explosives," the source said.

"It appears to me the bombs came from outside (of country)."

"There is a possibility this blast was a cooperation between local and foreign people," said the source.

Security throughout Jakarta was immediately put on alert, said the source.

International terrorism experts such as Rohan Gunaratna and Clive Williams have nominated the Jemaah Islamiah -- a group that authorities believe is al Qaeda's network in Southeast Asia -- as the most likely culprit behind the Bali attack.

This is the same group blamed for a September 23 grenade explosion near a U.S. Embassy warehouse in Jakarta.

The head of the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), Abu Bakar Baasyir, has denied any involvement in the Bali bombing. Baasyir's name has been linked in the past to al Qaeda, a linkage he has rejected.

Tourism blow

The blast is a heavy blow to Indonesia, still struggling to emerge from the 1997 economic crisis which has sent millions into poverty.

Bali has long been an important source of foreign exchange with its thriving tourism industry which is now sure to suffer. (Bali's nightmare)

Dai also appealed to Indonesian public figures to stop denying the existence of terrorist acts in the country.

"We ask all parties to stop saying there are no terrorist acts in the country. With so many victims (from the blast), we need an anti-terrorist law to protect foreigners and Indonesia," Dai was quoted as saying.

Indonesia's Vice President Hamzah Haz are among the public figures who deny the existence of terrorists.

The country's parliament is currently debating a draft anti-terrorist law which faces opposition from militant Muslim groups.

Weakest link

A senior government source told CNN is was time to consider allowing the military to take charge of investigating the terrorist act as the police were overwhelmed.

"I am in no way saying the military should be making a comeback in the running of security but the police are overwhelmed in dealing with such incidents because they don't have the capability to follow the trail of terrorists, from their origins, their links to the outside world and so on," the source said.

On Sunday, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri called for a meeting with top security officials and ministers.

She flew to Bali later in the day for a brief visit.

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.



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