July 21st, 2009
07:27 AM GMT
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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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Filed under: AsiaBusinessterrorism

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soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. louise

    Good thing video conferencing exists! But, negotiations and anything involving gests, physical appearance, etc. will have to wait for improvements in technology.

    July 21, 2009 at 10:46 am |
  2. Kai Griffin

    Perhaps they can meet via hologram, such as the ridiculous Obi-Wan Kenobi-style gimmick CNN used during the US election night coverage with Wolf Blitzer.

    July 21, 2009 at 11:57 am |
  3. Daniel

    While reviewing the CNN coverage of this incident I was suprised by the lack of knowledge of the local correspondent. The security meassures at the hotels, while looking very impressive leave a lot to be desired. For example due to a back problem I sometimes find it necessary to use a cane. When I show up with the cane I am allowed to walk through the security portal with no screening. As an expatriate in Jakarta I can walk through most security with no checking at all. Most of the security is very lax in the late evening or early morning. around 11 PM to 6 AM. It appears that the security feels that terrorists work during normal working hours. When you frequent a location and smile and say hello every time, you are eventually considered safe and do not have to be checked as much as others.

    Also there is little or no security for employees enterering through employee entrances. The CNN contact here needs to be more grouned in what actually goes on here and not rely on "reliable" sources.

    July 23, 2009 at 4:50 am |
  4. Dave

    Me growing up, l was taught how to respect adults, people in general. It's always yes ma'am, no ma'am or yes sir, no sir. I addressed anybody this way no matter who. It make me so sick when people on TV esp. major debate programs like 360 and so on addresses Mr President as Obama. He's our President for goodness sake. Address him as President Obama. I never called my father by his first name neither. Let us teach our kids how to respect.

    July 30, 2009 at 1:15 pm |

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