July 21st, 2009
07:27 AM GMT
JAKARTA, Indonesia – Noke Kiroyan enjoyed attending the regular CastleAsia business breakfast at the Marriott in Jakarta. It was a good place to network, and he liked the attentive service: The waiter always remembered his preferred simple breakfast of two eggs.
Security is always an issue in Jakarta. Everyone knows that the country’s most notorious terrorist, Noordin Top, is still at large and has a long track record of bombing hotels, embassies and nightclubs. But the Marriott seemed a secure location – bags were checked and everyone passed through a metal detector upon entry. Last Friday, the Indonesian and expatriate executives gathering there felt no cause for alarm.
But as Noke – a Jakarta business consultant and former CEO of several multinational companies in Indonesia – chatted with fellow business leaders at breakfast, two suicide bombers were making their last checks in room 1808. One descended in the elevator and walked straight toward the lounge where the Castle Asia meeting was taking place. A more obvious target might have been the busy coffee shop nearby, but the bomber had his eyes fixed on the lounge, as he wheeled a suitcase packed full of explosives.
What happened next Noke will never forget: a loud bang, a red flash and then darkness. He regained consciousness, unsure if he was dead or alive. He saw nothing, the void pierced only by the groans and prayers of the others around him. Then as the dust settled, he saw a beam of light. He stumbled towards it. Staff grabbed him and helped him out onto the sidewalk, where he saw a friend from the meeting who’d also escaped.
A brief thumbs-up and a few words in Dutch confirmed they were both okay. But others weren’t so lucky. Three Australians and a New Zealander were among the victims, as was the Indonesian chef serving them breakfast. The police are still working out exactly what happened, but it is becoming increasingly clear the CastleAsia meeting was deliberately targeted.
Experts like Sidney Jones from the International Crisis Group, say it’s not clear if the terrorists knew about the regular Friday breakfast meeting well in advance or whether they learned about it after they’d checked in as guests days before the attack. Either way, it would have been an enticing target for a terrorist cell determined to kill as many Westerners as possible.
Not just any Westerners either; these were the elite of the business world in Jakarta. CEOs, diplomats, movers and shakers were regulars at the CastleAsia meeting.
Noke says he does want to continue to attend CastleAsia meetings, once its founder James Castle has fully recovered from his injuries. But Noke admits the venue will have to change. Even a hotel bristling with security is still too open, too public now.
The way business is done in Jakarta will have to evolve, too. One man who runs a similar networking company, James van Zorge, told me that for now they may have to meet “electronically” via Skype or video conferencing until confidence returns. And then perhaps the networking and social events will have to take place in private residences – almost in secret to ensure the terrorists can’t hit them again.
Expatriate businessmen interviewed say they are determined not to leave Indonesia. But until Noordin Top is caught, many feel holding a regular, meeting of Westerners in a public place is simply too risky.
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