Sunday, 9 August 2009

Indonesian police officers regroup following a raid on a house where suspected terrorists were holed up in Bekasi, West Java, Indonesia, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009. Indonesian police hunting the terrorists behind last month's attacks on hotels in the capital raided one house and besieged another Saturday, killing two suspected militants, arresting five and seizing explosives and a car bomb, a senior officer said.
(AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

By IRWAN FIRDAUS, Associated Press Writer
Sat Aug 8

BEJI, Indonesia – Police reportedly killed the self-proclaimed Southeast Asian commander of al-Qaida on Saturday in a 16-hour siege of a village hide-out, but authorities said they could not confirm that a recovered body was that of the militant leader without DNA tests.

Local TV stations reported that alleged terror mastermind Noordin Mohammad Top was killed in the lengthy bomb and gunbattle at a house in central Java. Noordin is suspected in last month's suicide bomb attacks on two American hotels in the capital, Jakarta, as well as the deaths of more than 220 people in bomb blasts on the resort island of Bali in 2002 and 2005.

Together the bombings linked to Noordin and the Southeast Asian-based Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist network killed 250 people, many of them Western tourists.

The remains of a man believed to be Noordin were flown from central Java to Jakarta for an autopsy, but police "cannot yet confirm that this is Noordin Top," national police Chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri said.

Police don't want to say that Noordin is assumed dead and any announcement will have to wait until next week after a DNA examination is complete, Hendarso told a nationally televised news conference. It was unclear if police have any samples on file that can be used for the DNA test.

The July attacks on the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta killed seven people, all but one of them foreigners, and ended a four-year pause in terror strikes in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation.

Noordin is also believed to have orchestrated an earlier attack on the J.W. Marriott Hotel in 2003 and a blast outside the Australian Embassy in 2004, together killing dozens and wounding hundreds in the Indonesian capital.

Those early attacks were blamed on the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist network and were believed to be funded by al-Qaida, but Noordin later reportedly broke away from the Southeast Asian group to form a more violent offshoot and his foreign ties became uncertain. It is unknown how the recent suicide blasts on the Jakarta hotels were funded.

Noordin emerged as the region's most prominent suspected terrorist leader and is known as a skilled bomb maker who has eluded capture for around seven years, despite a massive crackdown launched by Indonesian authorities following the first Bali bombing.

A Malaysian citizen, Noordin claimed in a video in 2005 to be al-Qaida's representative in Southeast Asia and to be carrying out attacks on Western civilians to avenge Muslim deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Killing or capturing him would be a major victory in Indonesia's fight against militants and could significantly weaken the chances of more attacks, given the key planning, financial and motivational role he is believed to have played in terror networks.

Minutes after Saturday's raid, witnesses said officers outside the house took off their helmets and were shaking hands with each other, suggesting all those inside had either been killed or captured. The firing ceased.

A police officer at the scene said a body was found in the bathroom of the house and authorities brought a coffin there. After about an hour, three ambulances left the home.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters he had been briefed on an ongoing operation "to uphold law and to eradicate terrorism," but made no mention of Noordin. Still, he praised police.

"I extend my highest gratitude and respect to the police for their brilliant achievement in this operation," he said.

Earlier Saturday, officers raided a second house close to Jakarta where they killed two suspected militants and seized bombs and a car rigged to carry them, police Chief Danuri said.

The house was about three miles (five kilometers) from the president's residence. The Web site, quoting an unidentified police source, said officers believed they were planning to attack Yudhoyono's house.

Officers circled the house in central Java province late Friday afternoon after making arrests in a nearby town. At one point, they sent remote-controlled robots into the isolated building to search for bombs.

Not long before they stormed the red-tiled building, officers dressed in black hid behind a shield and fired into the house from close range, while others fired repeated volleys from a hill behind it.

Police have arrested more than 200 militants linked to the Jemaah Islamiyah terror network since 2002, including many with suspected ties to Noordin.

Java, home to more than half of Indonesia's 235 million people, has long been the focus in the hunt for Noordin and his associates.

In November 2005, Azahari bin Husin, a top Jemaah Islamiyah bomb maker, was fatally shot by counterterrorism forces in east Java. Sariyah Jabir, another explosives expert, was killed in April 2006 during a raid on a militant hide-out in central Java.


AP reporter Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this article.

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