K By Richard C. Paddock
UTA, Indonesia – An FBI team sifted through the debris of Indonesia’s worst terrorist attack Sunday, searching for clues to the identity of terrorists who detonated a car bomb in a popular Bali nightclub district crowded with foreign tourists.
Authorities said the attack Saturday night killed at least 184 people and wounded 490. Dozens were still missing, and the death toll was expected to rise. Police at the scene said bodies remained buried in the rubble of the Sari Club, which was packed with foreigners when the car bomb exploded nearby.
Two Americans were confirmed dead and three others were among the hundreds of people injured, a U.S. official said. At least one other American, Steven Brooks Webster, 41, of Huntington Beach, Calif., remained unaccounted for.
The dead and wounded came from more than 25 nations and represented every continent but Antarctica, although most of the victims were Indonesian or Australian.
Grief-stricken survivors searched Bali’s 13 hospitals for friends and loved ones missing since the Saturday night blast.
Indonesian officials branded the bombing a terrorist attack, but there was no indication whether it was connected to the al-Qaida terror network or Islamic extremist groups that have been operating in Southeast Asia.
But in recent days, U.S. officials have been warning that al-Qaida could be preparing a new series of attacks, and some officials said Sunday that the bombing could be part of that series.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., predicted as much, saying attacks could occur “perhaps in the United States.”
Brig. Gen. Saleh Saaf, the Indonesian police spokesman, said it was “premature” to draw any conclusions about who was behind the attack.
In Washington, President Bush denounced the bombing as “a cowardly act designed to create terror and chaos. … We must call this despicable act by its rightful name, murder.”
Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta said they expected to decide Monday whether to send nonessential employees and embassy families out of the country because of the threat of more terrorist attacks.
Some extremist Muslim leaders asserted that the bombing was carried out by the United States in a plot to embarrass Indonesia and undermine the radical Islamic movement. As proof, they pointed to the low number of American casualties.
U.S. officials immediately denied the claim.
“These statements are totally outrageous and completely false,” said one American official who asked not to be identified.
In the Kuta district of Bali, witnesses and survivors described a scene of horror Saturday night, with severed heads and limbs strewn around the streets in front of the Sari Club. One motorcyclist said the blast was so powerful that he saw a car thrown through the air.
Many of those injured suffered serious burns or the loss of arms or legs.
On Sunday, many foreign visitors were in a state of shock and bewilderment. Some marveled at their narrow escape. Others were gripped by despair as they realized that missing friends probably would not be found alive.
John Woodley, a bandage over his left cheek and ear, returned to the scene of the explosion Sunday afternoon to see the devastation he escaped.
The Sari Club, where he had been drinking the night before, was completely leveled, except for the twisted metal frame of its sign, which was turned on end and pointing oddly to the sky.
All around were buildings gutted by fire, including a bank and another bar that had been crowded that night, Paddy’s Irish Club. Glass and debris littered the nearby streets, and the smell of smoke hung in the air. Dozens of police officers kept sightseers at bay.
Woodley, a 28-year-old Londoner, said he was standing in the center of the packed nightclub when the car bomb exploded, destroying the building in an instant.
The corrugated metal roof collapsed on the crowd, he said, trapping scores of people.
Woodley said he was knocked to the ground and lost his glasses and sandals. But somehow, a small hole in the wreckage appeared above him and he crawled through. He ran to safety as the building burst into flames. He suffered only burns on his face and cuts on his leg.
“I was incredibly lucky,” he said. “There were 300 people in there. I cannot imagine that many of them survived.”
At Sanga Hospital, hundreds of Indonesians and foreigners milled around, hoping to find people they hadn’t seen since the explosion. A list of the missing was posted on a wall. A few were marked as found, a few others as dead.
A Swedish tourist, who gave his name only as Bjorn, said he was in the bathroom at the back of the Sari Club when the blast hit.
He hardly knows how he escaped but recalls coming to a high brick wall, where he pushed others over to safety. He doesn’t remember how he got over the wall himself.
The moment of the blast was the first time he had been apart from his girlfriend the entire evening, he said Sunday. He had not seen her since.
After his escape, he helped load five bodies into a car and rode with them to the hospital in the hope of finding her there.
At first he thought the five were the only ones killed and was optimistic he would soon find her. But as the dead bodies piled up, his hopes dwindled.
He searched for her among the dozens of charred, unidentified bodies in the hospital morgue. But even there he didn’t find her.
Sunday evening, nearly 24 hours after the blast, he sat dejectedly at the hospital, watching medics roll the wounded past on gurneys.
“We were about to leave,” he said, staring at the ground. “Another five minutes and we would have been gone.”
At the hospital’s makeshift morgue, dozens of medical workers began the laborious process of identifying bodies burned and maimed beyond recognition.
More than 50 corpses were laid out on a covered walkway in the tropical heat, with blocks of ice to keep them cool. Local residents peered over a wall to watch the proceedings.
Putra Swi Antara was one of a dozen Balinese medical students who was helping out. But foremost on his mind was the effect the bombing would have on Bali, a predominantly Hindu island that until Saturday had been spared much of the turmoil affecting the rest of Indonesia.
Bali, famous for its surfing beaches and terraced rice paddies, depends heavily on tourism. Most Balinese have at least one relative who works in the tourist industry.
Now, some tourists are so frightened they are leaving their hotels and sleeping at the airport until they can get a flight home. It could be years before tourists start coming back to Bali in large numbers.
“The main thing residents are worried about is tourism,” said Antara, 20 . “Almost all of the tourists are checking out and departing.”