BY THE time the news of the bombing in Bali reached the American public early on Sunday, a team of officers from the FBI was already heading to a military airfield on the outskirts of Washington en route for Indonesia.
As the US agents arrived in Kuta, officially to assist the Indonesian police in the forensic hunt for victims, they were joined by anti-terrorist officers from Scotland Yard and a much larger contingent from the secret service wing of the Australian Federal Police.
In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, where reaction to the intervention of foreigners, particularly the FBI, was angrily received, few believed the foreign agents were there in a purely advisory capacity.
In fact, as the FBI arrived to "advise" the Balinese police, the Indonesian authorities were already coming under intense international pressure to concentrate their energies on bringing the perpetrators of the atrocity to justice.
Last night, Scotland Yard confirmed it had despatched members of its anti-terrorist squad to Bali specifically to help gather forensic evidence that may lead the Indonesian authorities directly to the bombers.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "We can confirm we have offered to help with the task of identifying victims, but a number of our forensic officers will also be making detailed examinations at the bomb site in a bid to piece together clues as to how the device was put together and who may have planted it.
"Scotland Yard officers are keen to speak to Britons caught up in the blast as their evidence may help in the Indonesian authorities’ inquiries. The anti-terrorist branch in particular wants to see video footage and photographs taken by holidaymakers which may hold vital clues about the incident."
The US State Department was more candid about the involvement of the FBI, issuing a simple statement confirming their agents were present in Kuta.
Jo-Anne Prokopowicz, a State Department spokeswoman, said: "These incidents are under investigation and we are assisting the Indonesians in every way we can. I don’t want to speculate about possible perpetrators, motivations or connections."
Yesterday, at the scene of the bombing itself, rescue workers continued to work round the clock, sifting through the rubble for clues. On the ground, US and British agents were seen at the bomb site sifting through the rubble, retrieving samples of blood and tissue that may offer DNA readings and conclusively identify the victims.
As well as attempting to track down the fragments of the bombs themselves in a bid to identify how they were made, the forensic officers also retrieved the burned and fragmented remains of personal items helpful in the identification process, including wallets, belt buckles, pieces of jewellery and photographs.
Last night, no group had claimed responsibility for the worst terrorist attack in Indonesia’s history, but the finger of blame remained clearly pointed at the Indonesian Muslim radical, Abubaker Baasyir.
Baasyir, who has been labelled Indonesia’s Osama bin Laden, is widely-believed to be the head of the militant Islamic faction Jemaah Islamiah (Islamic Community), which hopes to create an Islamic state in Malaysia, the southern Philippines and Indonesia.
Earlier this year, the group was accused by Singapore and Malaysia of planning attacks on US interests in Singapore. Indonesia’s two neighbours claim the network, with tentacles across the region, is led by Baasyir, a Muslim cleric who lives near the central Java town of Solo.
Ralph Boyce, the US ambassador, said that while the Bali bombings couldn’t yet be pinned on al-Qaeda, there was direct evidence that the group and its affiliates were operating in Indonesia and reaching out to local extremists.
Yesterday, after increasing pressure from the US, Megawati Sukarnoputri, the Indonesian president, faced increasing calls to arrest Baasyir, whom the US has long believed is directly linked to al-Qaeda.
However, Alexander Downer, Australia’s foreign minister, said it would be premature to arrest Baasyir, while Muslim leaders warned Megawati that many Indonesians believe Baasyir is innocent and that if she arrests the cleric, she risks appearing to be a lackey of the US.
According to Wimar Witoelar, a political analyst on Indonesia, the president had already made a serious error by allowing the FBI into the country.
He said: "She has to show she is not dancing to the tune of the US and many Indonesians will see the immediate involvement of the FBI in the investigation as an unnecessary intrusion.
"The question many people in Jakarta will be asking is why are we allowing the US to run an investigation in our own country."
In Australia, where parliament was recalled to discuss the tragedy, some political observers claimed Australians themselves had been the direct target of the attack, saying that the Indonesian military may have orchestrated the bombing to take some revenge against them for leading the United Nations peace-keeping operation in East Timor in 1999.
Many Indonesians, including the military and some hardline Muslim groups, continue to blame Australia for East Timor’s independence, saying it manipulated the UN referendum held in 1999.
Despite accusations aimed at the military in Jakarta, Matori Abdul Djalil, Indonesia’s defence minister, yesterday directly blamed al-Qaeda and its extremist allies for the attack. He said: "We are sure al-Qaeda is here. The Bali bomb blast is related to al-Qaeda with the co-operation of local terrorists."
But according to Bali police chief, Brigadier General Budi Setiawan, his force was no closer to solving the mystery behind the attack.
He said: "We have not caught anyone yet, but we are doing everything we can and when we get a lead on this, we will announce it to the world."
AL-QAEDA ARE THEY RESPONSIBLE?
Intelligence sources in Indonesia have pointed the finger of blame for the bombing at Jemaah Islamiah, an Islamic fundamentalist group with strong links to al-Qaeda. Militant Muslims are known to be active in Indonesia. Abubaker Baasyir, widely believed to be the leader of Jemaah Islamiah, has praised Osama bin Laden as a "great Islamic warrior".
Experts, including Professor Paul Wilkinson, the chairman of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, believe the bombing bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda. It targeted Westerners in a club where Balinese were banned. The operation was well-organised and executed and one of the three bombs went off outside the US consulate.
FBI sources claim messages in recent audio tapes of bin Laden, and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, may have given agents the signal to strike.
US state department officials believe the recent attacks on the French oil tanker, Limburg, in Yemen, and the shooting of a US marine in Kuwait were linked to the bombing and signified a new al-Qaeda campaign.
Police in Bali already claim to have the names of at least half a dozen people who may be linked to the weekend blasts, but not linked to al-Qaeda.
Because the majority of victims were Australian, some experts have speculated that the attack may have been aimed specifically against them. In 1999, Australian troops took control of East Timor, which Indonesia had invaded 25 years earlier, after the territory’s voters opted for independence in a United Nations referendum. The action infuriated many in Indonesia, who saw it as part of a neo-colonialist policy aimed at breaking up their country.
Baasyir has condemned the bombing as "brutal" and denied that he was responsible. He said he was not linked to terrorism or to Jemaah Islamiah. Bambang Susilo Yudoyono, the Indonesian security minister, said there were signs that terrorists not directly linked to al-Qaeda were planning attacks against key industrial sites.
Analysts say al-Qaeda only attacks "symbols of US power" and that the Sari Club could not be described as such.