Consular Officers Respond to Jakarta Hotel Bombings

Posted by Lindsey Zuluaga
July 30, 2009
Police Inspect Hotel in Jakarta

About the Author: Lindsey Zuluaga serves as a Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Two weeks ago, I arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta on Friday morning, July 17 to begin a day of visa interviews for Indonesians. As a consular officer, I spend most of my day on the visa line. But from the crowd huddled around the TV in the waiting room, I could tell it might not be a typical day -- Indonesian TV was reporting explosions at two luxury hotels in Jakarta. No cause was yet determined, and with a full load of interviews scheduled and a room full of applicants, we tried to focus on the task at hand.

This was harder than I thought, as news coverage of the events in the background was constantly blaring, and emails from my public affairs colleagues every few minutes confirmed that these were bombs, not just explosions, and likely terrorist attacks. As soon as we learned that American citizens could potentially be among the victims, Consul General Jeff Tunis pulled some of my colleagues off the visa line and immediately sent them to the scene. I was one of just three consular officers asked to stay and finish the heavy load of interviews.

All day, everyone in the consular section provided assistance to Americans, whether at the bombing site, at local hospitals locating and assisting American victims of the blasts, or at the embassy compound, where we provided emergency passports and tracked down Americans whose families called for information about their loved ones’ welfare and whereabouts. Of the fifty people injured by the Jakarta blasts, six were Americans, but there were no U.S. fatalities.

The next day I went to the Metropolitan Medical Center Hospital in downtown Jakarta to check on American victims. I walked through the hospital entrance to find a waiting room of chaos -- reporters fishing for stories, cameramen snapping photos, family members looking for loved ones, and hospital staff trying to keep order in the midst of it all. The receptionists were hesitant to let us into the hospital, and I had to convince them I was not a journalist. Eventually, I met several American victims with their family and friends in their hospital rooms. One person had a fractured leg and burns all over his body, and I was taken aback to see him drawn up in his bed with so many bandages. Another American was just coming out of surgery to have shrapnel removed from her shoulder, and I visited her in the ICU. She was barely able to sit up, and clearly traumatized. Both were quietly eating breakfast at a hotel café when the bombs struck.

Some needed to be medically evacuated out of the country for additional medical care, and were apprehensive about the procedure. I tried to reassure them, and worked with my colleagues to process and deliver emergency passports, although some could barely manage to sign the forms because of their injuries. We also ensured that all personal effects that were retrieved from the bombing sites were returned to the victims.

The Jakarta bombings were tragic. Nine people lost their lives, and many others were severely injured. My heart is still in my stomach when I think about it. But I am proud that our embassy was there right away to help our countrymen in their time of need. As I was heading out the hospital door at the end of the day, one of the victims leaned over to me and said, “Thanks for everything. I don’t think I would have been able to go through this without the embassy’s help.” Comments like these make service so rewarding.

Comments

Comments

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 30, 2009

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Lindsey, Nice to know someone's got your back when bad stuff happens to good people in far away places. Keep up the good work!

I've long suspected there's a "pecking order" among terrorist groups, and the degree of "credibility" among different terrorist org's is directly related to whether they can make headlines on BBC world news.

As a tactic, blowing innocent people up only serves to terrorize those immediately affected, it is the press in reporting the event that helps spread and generate the intended fear throughout society.

Just a theory, but if the press stopped reporting these things, the tactic itself may die out from lack of useful public exposure in the eyes of the terrorists themselves.

They continue to apply the tactic because we allow it to work for them. They know it's a quick way to infamy, and all the free press they could ask for. And they don't even have to ask.

Asking the press to go against their basic instinct to report might be unrealistic, and would entail a level of self dicipline, but journalists should understand that the "fourth estate" has a vital role in winning the war on terrorism.

I think some reverse psycology is in order here.

Karen
|
Oregon, USA
July 30, 2009

Karen in Oregon writes:

On an individual basis, it is hard to imagine how one can be drawn into such a traumatic event. Why should something like this happen to us? But each of us is also a citizen of the world, and everything happens for a reason, and that is to make us stronger, more tolerant and compassionate.

The root cause of terrorism is not that some people are good and some people are bad, and the bad people want to hurt the good people. It is that people on the bottom have no voice, and must raise their voice to be heard, oftentimes to the point of violence.

I recall that during the first weeks of the War in Iraq, a Christian missionary to the Philippines was interviewed. She and her husband had been captured and held for over a year. Her husband was killed in a skirmish between government forces and terrorists. The interviewer asked her if she felt any anger at the terrorists, and she said no, that they had apologized to her and told her this was the only way they could get their government to listen.

I believe it is time to end terrorism, and the way to do it is to make is possible for everyone to have a voice in their government. I believe it is not only possible to do so, but mankind is evolving in that direction.

Karen H.,
Principle,
The World Peace Organization for the One World Government

Jonathan
|
California, USA
August 5, 2009

Jonathan in California writes:

Thank you for your service as a diplomat!

.

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