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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jakarta Blames al-Qaida in Bali Blast

BALI, Indonesia -- Indonesia's defense minister on Monday blamed al-Qaida and its extremist allies for the massive bomb attack that killed more than 180 people at a nightclub on the resort island of Bali.

"We are sure al-Qaida is here," Matori Abdul Djalil said after a Cabinet meeting in Jakarta. "The Bali bomb blast is linked to al-Qaida with the cooperation of local terrorists."

It was the first time that a top government official has implicated al-Qaida in Saturday's attack. Until now, police investigators have been saying they had few clues and no suspects.

The FBI and Australian detectives joined the hunt for the killers while forensic experts painstakingly tried to identify bodies.

Fearing that terrorists could strike again, thousands of tourists were fleeing Bali on Monday amid suspicions that al-Qaida was behind the bombing. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, often the target of bomb threats, ordered all nonessential staff and dependents, about 300 people, to leave Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country.

Bali's international airport was thronged by stunned, mostly young vacationers desperately looking for flights home.

Government officials said 181 people died, although hospital workers put the figure at 190. Two people died Monday on board Australian air force cargo planes sent to evacuate the most severely injured to a hospital in the northern city of Darwin. More than 300 were injured. Many were vacationers from Australia.

No one claimed responsibility for the bombing at the Kuta Beach nightlife district -- the worst terrorist attack in Indonesia's history. Suspicion, however, immediately turned to al-Qaida and an affiliated group, Jemaah Islamiyah, which is said to want a pan-Islamic state across Malaysia, Indonesia and the southern Philippines.

Jemaah Islamiyah has already been implicated in a plot at the beginning of this year to bomb foreign embassies in the region, and Australia says it is a prime suspect in the Bali attack.

Abu Bakar Bashir, a Muslim cleric accused of leading Jemaah Islamiyah, strongly denied involvement. Indonesian police refused to say whether Bashir would be questioned despite repeated calls by neighboring countries that he be arrested.

But Bali police spokesman Yatim Suyatmo said investigators "have names that would lead in some directions to solve this case."

Indonesia's foreign minister underlined an apparent hardening of resolve in Jakarta by telling reporters there was "no doubt" the country faced a terrorist threat. "This has to be realized by all of us, including our political elites, that the danger is real and potential here," Hassan Wirajuda said after a meeting with foreign ambassadors.

The worst act of terror since Sept. 11, 2001 fanned fears that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida -- dispersed from Afghanistan after the World Trade Center attack -- was regrouping.

(Reuters, AP)