Tue, 04 Feb 2003

Police dealt slap in face by bomb blast at HQ

Damar Harsanto and Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

What is often assumed to be the safest place can sometimes turn out to be the most vulnerable to attack. This was graphically demonstrated on Monday morning when a low-explosive bomb blew up at Wisma Bhayangkari, located in the same compound as the National Police Headquarters on Jl. Sanjaya, South Jakarta, opposite the Greek Embassy.

The blast injured one person and damaged two cars, as well as shattering windows in the vicinity of the blast site.

The explosion seemed to leave egg all over the face of the National Police, as it took place hard on the heels of concerted police efforts to combat terrorism -- including their current investigations into suspects in the Bali and Christmas 2000 bombings. Also ongoing are investigations into the Timika case in Papua, which allegedly involved the Army, and into the alleged involvement of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) in the Ambon conflict.

National Police Chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar regretted the bomb squad's failure to prevent the explosion inside the country's police headquarters.

Speaking at a hearing with House of Representatives Commission II on legal and home affairs, Da'i said that the police had earlier detected the bomb but failed to prevent the explosion, saying, "we had to await the bomb squad, which unfortunately arrived after the blast had already occurred."

Separately, National Police deputy spokesman Brig. Gen. Edward Aritonang gave the excuse that the explosion was due to the lack of security checks around the venue.

"Wisma Bhayangkari is normally used as a venue for wedding ceremonies and religious worship. As it is accessible to the public, security there is not as tight as in other parts of the compound," Edward told a media briefing.

Edward also acknowledged the explosion would produce a heightened sense of fear in the public as it had affected police property, supposedly one of the most secure places of all.

"However, we have yet to receive a message from any group claiming responsibility for the bombing ... We have yet to link the bombing with our current investigation into the string of bombings around the country," said Aritonang.

The police concluded the device was a low-explosive pipe bomb consisting of explosive black powder contained inside a 16- centimeter-long, 11-centimeter-diameter steel pipe. A concrete plug was used at the bottom of the pipe, while the top was covered by a steel plate wired to a timer and power supply from a motorcycle battery.

Police detectives also found about 130 fragments of steel shrapnel lying around the blast scene, said Aritonang.

Aritonang added police were interrogating five witnesses over the bombing, but declined to name them.

Police sources said they were Dewi Partogi (from the building management), Slamet Sutikno (a gardener), Apang Jaya (a passerby), and Norman and Entik (janitors).

Da'i said that the incident had challenged the police to carry out an internal investigation as well as hunt down the perpetrators.

"I apologize to the public for the incident, which may have caused alarm, as the explosion took place inside the police compound.

"But I must assert that nobody can guarantee they are safe from terrorist threat, not even the police," he said.

The bomb exploded at 7:10 a.m. and damaged the veranda of Wisma Bhayangkari. Forty minutes earlier, two janitors, Entik, 54 and Norman, 45, found a suspicious package wrapped in a black bag placed in a plant pot on the veranda of the building. They reported their finding to a military police post nearby, which then contacted the police bomb squad. Unfortunately, the bomb exploded nearly 10 minutes before the squad arrived.

The bomb caused Iman Turmuhidin, 50, a sound system engineer, to sustain back injuries due to flying glass. It also caused a woman officer working inside to faint. The blast also damaged two cars, a blue Kijang van and a silver Great Corolla sedan parked nearby, ruined the ceiling of the veranda and shattered windows around the blast site.

The day before the explosion, the building had been used for a wedding reception by Rita Julianti, a relative of pop singer Ully Sigar Rusady.