Indonesia says top militant has been killed

Indonesian police have shot dead a man suspected to be leading Islamic militant Noordin Mohammad Top during raids in Central Java and were trying to identify his body, police sources said on Saturday.

Malaysian-born Top is a prime suspect in last month’s near simultaneous suicide attacks on Jakarta’s JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels which killed nine people and wounded 53.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has vowed to track down the bombers and if Top has been killed or captured it would be major coup for security forces and could help reduce the chance of further attacks.

Police have launched a series of raids since Friday and two police sources close to the investigation into the hotel attacks said a man suspected to be Top was killed during raids in Temanggung, over 400km south-east of Jakarta.

”He was shot dead,” one source said, adding that raids in the area had led police to a house in Bekasi, on the outskirts of the capital, where up to 500kg of bombs had been found. A Reuters correspondent in Bekasi heard a loud blast from the cordoned-off area and police said they had killed two suspected militants.

”I think this is very significant. Hopefully the person in Temanggung is Noordin,” said national police spokesperson Nanan Soekarna.

Intelligence officials say Top and fellow Malaysian Azahari Husin, a bomb-maker who was killed in a 2005 police raid, were leaders in the Jemaah Islamiah militant network, blamed for a series of bomb attacks in Indonesia since 2002.

Top is believed to have planned previous bomb attacks on the JW Marriott in Jakarta in 2003, on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in 2004 and in Bali in 2005.

Ken Conboy, a Jakarta-based security consultant, said Top was key to the militant network due to his skills as recruiter of suicide bombers.

”If you look at the history of violent radicalism in Indonesia once they wrap up the main players it goes into a period of hiatus for a time for the next generation finds places to train and becomes of age,” he said.

Andi Wijayanto, a security expert at the University of Indonesia, said getting Top was ”a significant blow to the group as its leader has been killed and its logistics have been hurt”.

Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based expert on Islamic militants at the International Crisis Group, estimated this week that Top’s network could number around 30 people.

On Friday, police had said two men who were believed to be Top’s bodyguards had been arrested in a workshop in a market in Temanggung and had led police to a house in the same area where there was a shoot-out with suspected militants.

After an overnight stand-off and sporadic exchanges of gunfire, explosions shook the house followed by shooting at the remote site surrounded by rice fields where a group of suspected militants were thought to be holed up.

TV footage showed heavily armed black-clad police from the anti-terrorism unit surrounding the red-roofed house, fragments of wood flying off as bullets hit and plumes of smoke rising. A police officer said three people had been killed, including one in the bathroom.

Three ambulances arrived at the site and TV footage showed police carrying items from inside the house and laughing and shaking hands with colleagues.

One body was put in a brown wooden coffin and two in body bags.

In Bekasi, two men were shot dead after throwing a pipe bomb at police — one a suspected bomb-maker and the other linked to a 2004 attack on the Australian embassy, said spokesperson Soekarna.

He said two other suspects believed to be involved in recruiting suicide bombers were still on the run.

National Police Chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri said bombs at the house appeared to have been prepared for use in a car bomb attack on ”a very particular target”, but did not elaborate.

Soekarna said police had identified the two suicide bombers who carried out the hotel attacks — 19-year-old Danny Dwi Permana from Bogor in the Marriott attack and 28 year-old Nana Ihwa Maulana from Pandeglang in the Ritz-Carlton bombing. – Reuters

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