Reporting from Jakarta, Indonesia
For years, James Castle has been Mr. Indonesia, a well-known Western face here promoting the world's most populous Muslim nation as a sensible international investment destination.
The graying, bespectacled American met with presidents and generals, his CastleAsia consulting firm guiding outside investors with advice about political risk and economic trends.
On Friday, as deadly bombs ripped through two luxury Jakarta hotels, Castle saw firsthand the dark side of doing business in a nation torn by political and religious strife.
His firm was holding its weekly breakfast round table at the J.W. Marriott Hotel when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device packed with nails, authorities say. The blast killed one New Zealander attending the breakfast and injured several others, including Castle.
No group has taken responsibility for the twin attacks, which killed at least eight people. The investigation is focusing on Noordin Mohammad Top, a bomb maker and leader of a splinter group of the Jemaah Islamiyah network, which has links to Al Qaeda.
Experts said Saturday it was unlikely that Castle's gathering of foreigners was the target of the explosion.
"This was a terrible coincidence," said Wahyu Muryadi, executive editor of Tempo, a weekly magazine here. "It was a matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time."
But others say the attack on the high-rise Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels was designed as a warning to foreigners. The Marriott was the target of a car bomb in 2003 that killed 12.
"It's an iconic landmark that represents American ownership," said Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based terrorism expert. "Hitting the Marriott strikes at U.S. business interests."
On Saturday, much remained unclear about the attack. Investigators think the two suicide bombers stayed at the Marriott and carried in the ingredients of their explosives one piece at a time to avoid detection.
The bombs struck at the height of the busy Friday morning business rush, one day before the Manchester United soccer team was scheduled to check in to the hotel.
Asian terrorism experts said it was unclear whether the attackers figured the arrival of the Western soccer team in their calculations. "If it was Noordin Mohammad Top, he is Western-educated and would have seen the significance of the soccer team's arrival," said Maria Ressa, author of the 2003 book "Seeds of Terror," about the search for Al Qaeda hide-outs.
"If it isn't him and is the work of some other operatives, perhaps they're not as in touch with the Western world as we would expect."
Either way, Jones said the bomb still hit its target.
"These attacks are not always about the body count," she said. "These people were successful in grabbing the world's attention."
Jones said the sophisticated feat of detonating a pair of bombs within two minutes of each other despite heightened hotel security no doubt took months of planning.
She discounted reports that the bombings were connected to the hundreds of Jemaah Islamiyah rebels recently released from custody in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
"I'm not sure that group contains a likely group of suspects," she said. "Very few have been directly involved in bombings -- more so peripheral jobs as couriers or hiding fugitives.
"Many former prisoners have been co-opted by police and were not willing to risk the profit of that cooperation. Maybe five or six represented a serious risk of returning to violence, and the authorities had many of those under surveillance."