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Terrorist explosions once again hit Bali, killing at least 22

JAKARTA, Indonesia—Terrorists struck the resort island of Bali once again Saturday night, setting off a string of explosions in crowded tourist areas that left at least 22 people dead and some 51 others wounded, including many foreigners, according to hospital and police officials.

Two explosions tore through a crowded shopping center in Kuta Beach, while another explosion hit a seaside restaurant in the fishing village of Jimbaran Bay, a short walk from a Four Seasons resort hotel, witnesses said.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa blamed the attacks on two fugitive kingpins of a Southeast Asian militant group, Jemaah Islamiah, seen as al-Qaida's regional arm.

The attacks hit Bali just as its tourist industry was getting back on its feet from devastating bombings three years ago that left 202 people dead, including 80 Australians.

The latest bombings occurred nearly simultaneously just before 7 p.m. local time (8 a.m. EDT) at Kuta Town Square shopping center in the island's most urban area and at the seaside stalls in Jimbaran Bay, about 20 miles away.

Indonesian television carried chaotic images of rescuers pulling bleeding tourists from the smoldering ruins of the shopping center, which housed restaurants, surfer shops and clothing stores. The blasts struck the three-story Raja cafe and steakhouse and the Matahari department store.

"I helped lift up the bodies, there was blood everywhere," Wayan Kresna told Jakarta-based El Shinta radio station.

Daniel Martin, a tourist in Bali, told a British Broadcasting Corp. newscast that chaos ensued following the simultaneous thunderous blasts.

"There was thick smoke for a few minutes afterwards, but there didn't seem to be any fire," Martin said. "People were clambering onto the roof of the restaurant. It's about a three-story building, so people were climbing out and screaming and jumping down to the street. ... I saw some horrific injuries, people coming out and they were covered in blood."

In Jimbaran Bay, a third blast hit a seafood restaurant that is a popular gathering place at sundown. A former fishing village, Jimbaran Bay now is a posh resort area with Ritz-Carlton, Intercontinental and Four Seasons hotels.

Jakarta's Metro TV said police found another three bombs in Bali and were working to deactivate them.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who said he would go to Bali early Sunday, told Indonesian journalists that the blasts were "clearly an act of terrorism." He added that extremists "are targeting indiscriminately."

The Associated Press cited hospital and police officials saying that at least 22 people were killed and 51 wounded, including eight Australians and two Americans.

The latest bombings seemed designed to send a message that the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) group can strike Indonesia's most popular tourist destination at any moment. The group chose to strike during a high tourist-season weekend, as Indonesians prepare for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins early next week.

The bombings brought images that immediately harkened back to the 2002 explosions at Bali nightclubs. The Kuta shopping center is a 15-minute walk from the Sari Club and Paddy's Bar, scenes of the devastating 2002 blasts.

The island of Bali is a predominately Hindu enclave within the world's most populous Muslim nation. Viewed as a sanctuary from Indonesia's social turmoil, Bali draws 1 million tourists a year and is home to thousands of resident foreigners.

The new blasts are likely to increase pressure on President Yudhoyono to outlaw Jemaah Islamiah and increase the manhunt for Malaysian fugitives Azahari bin Husin and Noordin M. Top, who are accused of a number of bombings in recent years. Some Muslim leaders in Indonesia deny the group even exists.

Jemaah Islamiah is still not proscribed. "It's still an open organization," terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna of Singapore's Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies said.

Gunaratna said heightened Indonesian security efforts were unable to thwart the attacks even though the group's bombings have occurred so often at this time of year that it is known as "JI bombing season."

The radical group is blamed for a bomb attack on the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in August 2003 that left 12 people dead, and an attack outside the Australian embassy in September 2004 that killed 11 people and injured some 180 others.

Islamic radicals have targeted Australian interests because of that nation's deployment of troops alongside U.S. forces in Iraq.

Both U.S. and Australian officials have warned in recent days that terrorist cells remain active in Indonesia. Just on Friday, the U.S. embassy issued a new warden's message that noted that "attacks could occur at any time and could be directed against any location, including those frequented by foreigners and identifiably American or other Western facilities or businesses in Indonesia."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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