Indonesian police almost arrest top terror suspect

Indonesian police came close on Friday to arresting one of Asia’s most-wanted terror suspects, a police source said, as the hunt for the Bali bombing masterminds intensified.

“We came very close to arresting Noordin [Mohammad Top], but I regret that the police blabbered to the media too much,” a police colonel involved in the investigation into the October 1 blasts said on condition of anonymity.

A local official quoted by Detikcom news website said police searched several houses in Purwantoro district near the city of Solo in Central Java before dawn in a hunt for someone resembling Noordin.

“But so far there was no information about any villagers or fugitives being arrested,” district administration chief Waluyo was quoted as saying.

Indonesian officials suspect the masterminds of the Bali restaurant attacks, which killed 19 plus the three suicide bombers, were Noordin and Azahari Husin—two fugitive Malaysian bomb makers linked to the Islamic extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Central Java police chief Chaerul Rasyid said police were looking for two known fugitives who had crossed the borders between Central and East Java provinces but did not identify them.

Photos of the near-intact heads of the attackers have been published across Indonesia in hopes of getting a lead on the organisers.

Police earlier on Friday said they were investigating reports that a Solo man named Gareng, who had been missing since mid-2004, could be one of the bombers.

Hard to trace

The suicide bombers could prove hard to trace, police said, because they come from a new generation of attackers.

“Until now, they have not been recognised by old groups,” chief investigator I Made Mangku Pastika reiterated on Friday.

“That means they are new people,” said Pastika, the man who led a largely successful hunt for the Jemaah Islamiyah bombers who killed 202 people in attacks on Bali nightclubs almost three years ago.

Noordin and Azahari are also suspected of involvement in that attack and in several other deadly strikes.

Asked if the bombers had been trained by older militants, Pastika said: “That’s a possibility. That’s where our investigation is starting from.”

Azahari and Noordin are thought to be creating their own force after splitting from Jemaah Islamiyah’s mainstream command structure, which is concerned about heavy Muslim casualties in a string of deadly Jemaah Islamiyah blasts in recent years.

“It is possible that this is a new group,” said national police spokesperson Aryanto Budihardjo.

“The previous bombings—Bali, Marriott [hotel], Australian embassy—involved car bombs. This time it is strongly suspected that the attackers used rucksacks.”

Reward issued

The United States State Department on Thursday announced a $10-million reward for information leading to the arrest of Indonesian Islamic militant Dulmatin, who is believed to have been a key figure in the 2002 attacks.

The October 1 blasts injured 148 people—100 Indonesians and 48 foreigners, said I Gusti Lanang Rudiartha, head of Bali’s Sanglah hospital.
The bombs were packed with ball bearings and shrapnel to maximise casualties.

Australia, which suffered four deaths last Saturday and 88 in 2002, has donated an image intensifier to detect shrapnel in bodies and other equipment to Sanglah.

Tourism chiefs stressed their determination to make the resort island safe and offered free beachside tattoos and massages to lure nervous holidaymakers out of their hotels.

On Jimbaran beach where two of the three bombs exploded, workers were scrubbing tables in preparation for reopening.

Sudha Arsa, owner of the Teba Café, said a cleansing ceremony may be held on Sunday on the mainly Hindu island to expunge evil.

“The aim is to clean the place so that the workers will forget the tragedy and we also will pray so that the tragedy will not recur and tourists will once again return to our restaurants,” he said.

Fear still grips many workers.

“I’m still frightened,” said Supri (25), a waiter at the Nyoman Café hit by one of the bombs. “Maybe there could be more attacks but I have no choice. I have a family to feed.”—Sapa-AFP

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