- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2005

MALANG, Indonesia — One of Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorists apparently blew himself up yesterday to escape capture when an elite security unit attacked his hide-out, the national police chief said. Two other suspected militants are thought to have been killed in the blast.

Known as the “Demolition Man” for his expertise with explosives, Azahari bin Husin was a key figure in Jemaah Islamiyah, a terror network with links to al Qaeda that has been blamed in a series of deadly bombings as well as failed plots in Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.

His death would be a blow to the group, which former members say is motivated by anger at U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world and a desire to establish an Islamic state in the region.

But security experts say Jemaah Islamiyah remains capable of staging attacks, and at least four of its senior leaders are at large in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Azahari, a native of Malaysia, was accused of masterminding bombings that killed hundreds of people in Indonesia in the past three years, but has long eluded police by moving from one rented house to another in densely populated areas.

Police spokesman Aryanto Budihardjo said that the raided house in Malang was rented by Azahari’s group three months ago and that authorities started surveillance 10 days ago after being tipped off by a recently arrested terror suspect. The town is about 530 miles east of the capital, Jakarta.

Gen. Sutanto, the national police chief, told reporters that Azahari realized he was trapped when members of an elite U.S.-trained anti-terrorism unit moved in on the house yesterday, backed by snipers stationed on nearby rooftops.

The suspects inside shot at police and set off at least 11 explosions.

“The last one, the big one, was a suicide blast. That is the one that killed them,” said Gen. Sutanto, who uses only one name.

Officials have described Azahari, thought to be in his 40s, as Jemaah Islamiyah’s bomb-making expert.

Together with Noordin Mohamed Top, another Malaysian, Azahari was accused of direct involvement in at least four terror attacks — the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 persons, most of them foreign tourists; two bombings in Jakarta in 2003 and 2004 that took 23 lives; and the Oct. 1 suicide attacks on Bali that killed 20.

Azahari is thought to have been introduced to militant Islam after meeting Jemaah Islamiyah’s purported spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, in the 1980s.

A native of the southern Malaysian state of Johor, Azahari studied mechanical engineering at Adelaide University in Australia before getting a doctoral degree in property valuation from the University of Reading in Britain in 1990.

He taught at a Johor university before getting involved with Jemaah Islamiyah.

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