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Australia says text message warned of Jakarta bombing

London Guardian | September 11 2004

An Indonesian police officer received a mobile phone text message warning of an attack against western embassies in Jakarta 45 minutes before Thursday's deadly car bomb outside the Australian mission but did not pass it on, the Australian government said yesterday.

The allegation caused consternation in Indonesia, where senior police officers denied the existence of the message and contradicted Australian claims about the size of the bomb, which detectives said yesterday had been taken to the embassy by two or three suicide bombers in a Daihatsu van.

Nine people, all Indonesians, were killed and some 180 injured in the explosion, which badly damaged about 10 neighbouring multi-storey buildings.

The Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, said in Jakarta that a member of Indonesia's elite paramilitary mobile brigade had received the warning. "The message some 45 minutes before the terrorist attack [said] that there would be an attack on western embassies unless Abu Bakar Ba'asyir was released," he said.

Mr Ba'asyir is considered the co-founder and ideological leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, the militant Islamist terrorist network linked to al Qaida and believed to be responsible for the embassy bombing and the explosions in Bali in 2002 and Jakarta last year.

The Indonesian cleric is in detention in Jakarta awaiting trial on as yet unspecified terrorist charges.

Mr Downer's comments were repeated by the Australian prime minister, John Howard, who also gave a general warning that there was a high possibility of further attacks in Jakarta.

Indonesia's police chief, General Da'i Bachtiar, insisted he knew nothing about the message, as did the mobile brigade commander, Brigadier General SY Wenas.

Australian officials said many text messages were received every week and that it would be impossible to react promptly to all of them.

John McFarlane, a former director of Australia's police intelligence, said it would be unreasonable to blame the Indonesian police for the failure to pass on the warning.

A message on an Islamic website said Jemaah Islamiyah had carried out the bombing because of Australia's support for America's war on terror.

Mr Downer later tried to play down discrepancies in the information disseminated by the two nations.

"I don't think we're going to get very far if we get into an argument," he said. "These terrorists need to know that Australia and the Indonesian government, and others as well, will hunt down terrorists until we catch every single one."

The two nations did agree that the blast was caused by a suicide bomb.

Indonesia's most senior detective, General Suyitno Landung, said that he suspected the masterminds were two senior Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah operatives, the British-educated engineer Azahari Husin and a communications expert, Noordin Muhammed Top.

Gen Bachtiar said the men were thought to have rented rooms in a guesthouse near Jakarta airport last month, but had fled when police raided the premises.

Australia's two main political parties yesterday suspended the campaign for the October 9 general election out of respect for those killed by the bomb.

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