Manchester United knew of terror risk before Jakarta hotel bomb
17 July 2009 07:06
Rio Ferdinand plays in a match against Malaysian youths in Kuala Lumpur but the Jakarta leg of the Asian tour has been pulled aftera hotel bombing
Manchester United knew of the high risk of terrorist attacks in Indonesia when they agreed to incorporate Jakarta in their Asia tour schedule, it emerged on Friday night.
Sir Alex Ferguson and his United players stepped off a plane in Malaysia yesterday morning to be told a terrorist bomb had exploded at the capital city's luxury Ritz-Carlton Hotel where they were due to stay.
A total of 12 people were killed and many more were injured in Jakarta when bombs exploded at the hotel - United were due to base themselves there from tomorrow for three nights - and at the nearby Marriott Hotel.
United immediately cancelled the Indonesian leg of their trip and are in negotiations about playing the Indonesian XI here in Kuala Lumpur on Monday or Tuesday instead.
However, the Barclays Premier League champions were forced to confront some difficult questions about their decision to include Jakarta on their itinerary. When tour details were finalised earlier this year, advice on the Foreign Office website was categoric, stating that Jakarta was considered 'high risk' for British visitors and public places such as Western hotels were described as particularly vulnerable.
Sir Alex Ferguson and chief executive David Gill expressed their sympathy to the families of the victims but would not acknowledge that their choice of Jakarta as a venue had been risky.
Gill said: 'We were aware of the situation [regarding the Foreign Office warnings] and had discussed it very carefully, taking the appropriate advice. 'We discussed it with the relevant authorities and it was the right decision at the time.
'We didn't just take the decision ourselves. We discussed it with the experts and felt that it was a safe place to go.
Sir Alex Ferguson and his United side were mobbed by locals when they arrived at their hotel
'It was our first visit, everyone had worked extremely hard and it is an important market for us because we have a lot of fans there. Balancing everything up, we felt it was the correct decision, but we have made the correct decision today, regrettable as it is.'
There is no evidence to suggest the terrorists had intended to strike when United were in Jakarta. It is also unclear if they knew United were due to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Nevertheless, it cannot be discounted that those responsible knew of the publicity the timing of their attack would generate. Ferguson said: 'We're obviously shocked. We only found out when we landed. We had never been to Indonesia before and the organisers had worked hard to get us over there. It's a terrible disappointment for them but there was no other way we could have looked at the situation with regard to the safety of our players, staff and fans.
'We wouldn't have been comfortable going there.' Jakarta had actually been downgraded to 'medium risk' by the Foreign Office in recent weeks, the same grading as the club's location here in Malaysia. Yet Gill assured the media that the security that surrounds the club on tour is adequate and it is unlikely to be beefed up.
Still, it was surprising to see press and public being granted seemingly unrestricted access to United's hotel yesterday. Journalists' bags were not searched on entry and credentials were not requested.
It was a similar situation when the players trained in front of 20,000 fans at the Bukit Jalil Stadium 90 minutes later. Gill said: 'In terms of our current security arrangements we will take the appropriate advice but we've already met the British High Commission and we will meet the appropriate people.
'Manchester United are accustomed to travelling and we take the appropriate advice. We evaluate it, we're very comfortable with that.
'We have many partners in Indonesia in a commercial sense and that will remain the case.
'This incident has happened and we've reacted to it and the tour will be appropriately revised. We will carry on and the safety of everyone on the tour is paramount.
'We won't be dissuaded by this one incident, we move on.'
United's players are free to move around their host cities at will during their tour. In reality, few venture unaccompanied outside their hotels in Asia for fear of being mobbed by enthusiastic supporters.
United play a Malaysian XI here tonight and may announce another game in Malaysia before playing FC Seoul in South Korea on Friday and Zhejiang Lucheng FC in China a week tomorrow.
A hundred or so United fans are believed to have travelled to Asia to follow their team and they face the prospect of making hasty and expensive alterations to their plans.
Meanwhile, United have signed 21-year-old Senegal forward Mame Biram Diouf from Norwegian club Molde for an undisclosed fee. He will remain at his current club on loan until January.