Indonesian police in massive manhunt after twins blasts

A week after twin suicide blasts in Jakarta killed seven people and marked a return of terror to Indonesia, police on Friday appeared no closer to cracking the Islamist network believed responsible.

Police have stepped up the hunt for alleged terrorist mastermind Noordin Mohammed Top who is believed to be behind the attacks on the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in central Jakarta last Friday.

A suspected would-be suicide bomber who had been trained by Noordin’s group was arrested on Thursday in the Central Java district of Cilacap, which has become a focus of the investigation.

A woman believed to be Malaysian-born Noordin’s third wife was arrested there earlier in the week, although her lawyers say she believed her husband’s name was Abdul Halim.

Days before the attacks, police raided an Islamic boarding school in Cilacap believed to be one of Noordin’s hideouts. They also found bomb-making materials that were identical to the ones used on July 17.

The bombers, one aged as young as 16, remain unidentified but police say they are looking for two men believed to have been involved in the attacks, including an associate of Noordin and a florist who worked at the hotels.

The coordinated blasts were the first major terror strike in the mainly Muslim country since 2005, shattering a period of calm which had seen strong economic growth and stability under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

They have alarmed analysts with their sophistication and the way the bombers penetrated airport-style hotel security and targeted a weekly breakfast meeting of senior foreign and Indonesian business leaders at the Marriott.

National police chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri told reporters after Friday prayers the police were closing in on Noordin’s network and had arrested four terror suspects around the country this year.

”There is no loophole. This is a race between us and that group,” he said.

The Marriott bomber stayed at the hotel as a cash-paying guest for two days, preparing at least two bombs inside Room 1808 before walking directly into a secluded business meeting room off the main lobby and blowing himself up.

A third, low-intensity bomb found in the room had been set to explode before the suicide blasts, but it had failed to go off, police confirmed on Thursday.

Three Australians and a New Zealander — businessmen and a diplomat who were guests at the business meeting — were killed at the Marriott along with an Indonesian hotel worker.

Two Dutch tourists died minutes later when the second bomber, aged 20 to 40 years according to police, blew himself up in the cafe of the adjacent Ritz-Carlton.

The second bomber reportedly gained access to the Ritz-Carlton through a staff door with the help of the florist, who had worked at the hotels for three years but has not been seen since the attacks.

Noordin is one of the most wanted fugitives in Southeast Asia and has been the subject of a massive manhunt since the 2002 bombings on the tourist island Bali, which killed 202 people, mostly Western tourists.

He was allegedly involved in that attack as part of the Jemaah Islamiyah regional terror network, and subsequently masterminded suicide bombings at the Marriott in 2003, the Australian embassy in 2004 and Bali restaurants in 2005.

But analysts say the former accountant fell out of favour with his associates in Jemaah Islamiyah who disapproved of his indiscriminate killings, fearing too many Muslims were dying.

He is since believed to have formed his own splinter group with the ambition of creating an Islamic caliphate across much of Southeast Asia governed by strict sharia law.

The long seven-year hunt for Noordin has produced a steady flow of tantalising near-misses. — Sapa-AFP

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