JAKARTA, Indonesia — Two days ago, they checked into room 1808 at the swank J.W. Marriott Hotel – smuggling explosives past metal detectors and security guards. Behind the closed door, investigators say the suicide attackers then assembled the bombs set off Friday at the Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton next door.
The blasts killed at least eight people and wounded more than 50 – and broke a four-year lull in terrorism in the world's most populous Muslim nation. Although significantly weakened by a crackdown in recent years, the attacks indicated Islamic militants still have the means to mount deadly assaults, even in heavily protected areas of Indonesia's capital.
The bombings also exposed the challenge of securing luxury hotels frequented by Westerners, a popular target for terrorists.
A group of more than a dozen executives with American and other Western companies was holding a regular Friday morning meeting near the Marriott restaurant where the explosives were detonated, and many of them were among the victims, hospital lists showed.
At least eight Americans were among those injured in the two blasts.
Indonesia was last hit by terrorists in October 2005, when three suicide bombers with explosives-laden backpacks killed 20 people at restaurants on the resort island of Bali. The Jakarta Marriott was targeted six years ago in a car bombing that left 12 people dead. Both attacks were blamed on the Southeast Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.
Friday's attackers evaded hotel security and smuggled explosives into the Marriott by posing as guests and assembling the bombs in room 1808, where an undetonated device was later found by police.
"They had been using the room as their 'command post' since July 15, and today they were supposed to check out," police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri said. At the Marriott, such a "deluxe" room, with marble-decorated bathrooms and plush furnishings, goes for about $200 a night.
Security video footage captured the moment of the explosion. The brief, grainy images show a man in a cap pulling a bag on wheels across the Marriott lobby toward the restaurant, followed by a flash and a blast of white smoke.
"There was a big explosion followed by a shock wave," said Ahmad Rochadi, a security guard at the Marriott who was checking cars in the basement. "I rushed upstairs and saw smoke billowing from the lobby."
Alex Asmasubrata, who was jogging nearby, said he walked into the Marriott before emergency services arrived and "there were bodies on the ground, one of them had no stomach. It was terrible."
The blast occurred as the Marriott was hosting a regular business meeting organized by the consultancy firm CastleAsia, said the group, which is headed by an American.
An Australian think tank, the Strategic Policy Institute, had warned that Jemaah Islamiyah might launch new attacks just a day before Friday's deadly strike.
International luxury hotels have become a common target for extremists in recent years, with at least eight bombings at major chains since 2003.
In Indonesia, security is tight at five-star hotels, where guests must typically walk through metal detectors and vehicles are inspected. But many visitors say searches are often cursory.
Defense analyst Paul Beaver, former top editor at Jane's Defense Weekly, said putting in place the kind of stringent security measures needed to help prevent attacks is difficult for hotels – and risks making properties that are supposed to be welcoming to weary travelers feel like prisons.
"You don't want to embarrass your guests with security measures," he said, noting that plotters in dozens of countries can also alter tactics based on experience gained from prior attacks. "This is the risk we take. There are a number of attacks like these waiting to happen."
In Indonesia, he said, the culprits seemed to have learned from hotel attacks in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai in November, when a three-day siege of the Taj Mahal hotel, the Oberoi's Trident hotel and eight other sites left 164 dead.
Authorities did not immediately name a suspect, but suspicion fell on Jemaah Islamiyah or its allies. The al-Qaida-linked network is blamed for past attacks in Indonesia, including the 2003 bombing at the Marriott in which 12 people died.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is widely credited with leading a crackdown on extremism, said the attack was carried out by a "terrorist group" and vowed to arrest the perpetrators.
The Manchester United football team canceled a visit to Indonesia in the wake of the attacks. The team had been scheduled to stay at the Ritz- Carlton on Saturday and Sunday.
President Barack Obama condemned the "outrageous attacks" and said the U.S. government stands ready to help its ally in the effort to combat extremism.
"We will continue to partner with Indonesia to eliminate the threat from these violent extremists, and we will be unwavering in supporting a future of security and opportunity for the Indonesian people," said Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a child.
The Marriott was hit first at 7:45 a.m. (0045 GMT, 8:45 p.m. EDT Thursday) followed two minutes later by the blast at the Ritz-Carlton. Both explosions were at the lower levels of high-rise buildings in the prestigious Mega Kuningan neighborhood.
Anti-terrorist forces with automatic weapons rushed to the site, and authorities blocked access to the hotels in a district also home to foreign embassies.
The security minister and police said a New Zealander was among those killed, and that 17 other foreigners were among the wounded, including the eight Americans and citizens of Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and Britain.
The dead New Zealander was identified by his employer as Timothy David Mackay, 61, who worked for cement products manufacturer PT Holcim Indonesia. He was reportedly attending a business meeting at the Marriott.
None of the Americans suffered life-threatening injuries, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said. All were treated and two were taken to Singapore for additional medical care.
Two of the wounded were employees of Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc., a spokesman for the Phoenix-based company said.
Freeport operates the world's largest gold mine in Indonesia's restive eastern Papua province, where several attacks have occurred in the past week near the firm's sprawling Grasberg mining complex, leaving at least 15 people dead or wounded.
There was no claim of responsibility for Friday's hotel attacks, but terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna said the likely perpetrators were from Jemaah Islamiyah.
"The only group with the intention and capability to mount attacks upon Western targets is Jemaah Islamiyah. I have no doubt Jemaah Islamiyah was responsible for this attack," he said.
There has been a crackdown in recent years by anti-terrorist officials in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation of 235 million, but Gunaratna said the group was "still a very capable terrorist organization."
Police have detained most of the key figures in Jemaah Islamiyah and rounded up hundreds of other sympathizers and lesser figures.
However, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said in a paper released Thursday that tensions in the group's leadership and the release of former members from prison "raise the possibility that splinter factions might now seek to re-energize the movement through violent attacks."
In October 2002, two Bali nightclubs were attacked killing 202 people, many of them foreign tourists. Jemaah Islamiyah was accused of responsibility.
Associated Press writers Christopher Brummitt, Niniek Karmini and Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Bob Christie in Phoenix and Tanalee Smith in Adelaide, Australia, contributed to this report.