INDONESIA’S most wanted Islamist militant was killed in a police shoot-out in Central Java, police said yesterday, lifting a major security threat ahead of a planned visit by US President Barack Obama.
Malaysian-born Noordin Mohammad Top, who set up a violent splinter group of regional militant network Jemaah Islamiah, was widely considered the mastermind of the bomb attacks on two luxury hotels in Jakarta in July, as well as other attacks in Bali and in Jakarta which killed scores of Westerners and Indonesians. National police chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri announced Top’s death at a news conference, triumphantly holding up photos to show the match between Top’s fingerprints and those on police file, as reporters and police cheered.
He said police had also seized documents, laptops and weapons in the raid.
Local media, quoting police sources, had trumpeted Top’s death last month during a police raid in Central Java, only to have forensic tests prove that wrong. But Danuri said that there were 14 points of match between the fingerprints, while only 11 were required for a confirmation. He said the militant was carrying a loaded Beretta pistol when found. Metro TV later showed the bearded and bloated face of Top emerging out of a partly unzipped orange body bag.
Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy and the world’s most populous Muslim country, has been under intense pressure to capture or kill Top ahead of Obama’s visit in November. “It’s a major success for the police, but it doesn’t mean... that the problem of terrorism is over,” said Sidney Jones, an expert on Islamic militants with the International Crisis Group.
Police spokesman Nanan Soekarna said three people had been captured in the overnight raid on a house near Solo. “We also confiscated explosives, weapons and a grenade from the house,” Soekarna said. Three other people killed in the raid included members of Top’s inner circle, police said. Police have been searching for several people believed to be behind the near-simultaneous attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels on July 17 in which nine people, including two suicide bombers, were killed and 53 wounded. The July bomb attacks in Jakarta ended a four-year lull in militant attacks in Indonesia. Top’s group of militants had also reportedly planned to assassinate President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The president said Top’s death was a big boost for security. “With the death of Noordin Mohammad Top and of Doctor Azahari, I believe we could reduce the seriousness of the terror threat to Indonesia,” Yudhoyono said at a fast-breaking event during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Azahari Husin, a Malaysian bomb maker and close ally of Top, was killed during a police raid in East Java in 2005.
Top, a key recruiter, strategist and financier for Jemaah Islamiah, has been on the run for nine years. He often used safe houses in Central Java as hideouts and relied on couriers rather than easily tracked mobile phones, to communicate with his cells.
Purbaya Yudhi Sadewa, an analyst at the Danareksa Institute, said Top’s death would help improve investment sentiment.
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