- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

SOLO, Indonesia (AP) — Noordin Muhammed Top, a militant mastermind who eluded capture for seven years and terrorized Indonesia with a string of deadly al-Qaeda-funded bombings, was killed during a raid in central Indonesia, the country’s police chief said Thursday.

Police hunting for suspects in Jakarta hotel bombings raided a hide-out in central Indonesia, sparking gunfire and an explosion Thursday that left four suspected militants dead, including Noordin, national police Chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri said. Three alleged terrorists also were captured.

Noordin’s remains were found in the house on the outskirts of the town of Solo in central Java after the hours-long gunfight that ended around sunrise, he said.

Fingerprints of Noordin’s obtained from authorities in his native Malaysia and stored on a police database matched those of the body, Danuri said. DNA tests have not yet been conducted.

“It is Noordin M. Top,” he told a nationally televised news conference to loud cheers from the audience. Documents and laptop computers confiscated from the house prove that Noordin “is the leader of al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia,” he said.

Hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of explosives, M-16 assault rifles, grenades and bombs were removed from the house as ambulances shuttled away the dead and injured.

“We asked Noordin M. Top to surrender, but they kept firing,” Danuri said. “That is how he died … he even had bullets in his pockets.”

Noordin fled to Indonesia in 2002 amid a crackdown on Muslim extremists in Malaysia in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. He was linked to all major bombings in Indonesia since 2003, killing scores of people.

“The most dangerous terrorist in Southeast Asia has been put out of commission,” said Jim Della-Giacoma, Southeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group think tank.

“It would have been better if police had managed to arrest him alive, but it appears that this was not an option,” he said. “Unfortunately, Noordin’s death does not mean an end to terrorism in Indonesia, though it has been dealt a significant blow.”

Noordin, who is accused of heading a splinter group of the al-Qaida-funded regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, has been implicated in every major attack in Indonesia since 2003, including a pair of suicide bombings at Jakarta’s J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in July that killed seven people and wounded more than 50.

He is also blamed for an earlier attack on the J.W. Marriott in 2003 and a bombing at the Australian Embassy in 2004.

In the Philippines, where authorities are fighting an Islamist insurgency in the south, Noordin’s death was welcomed by authorities as a sign that terrorists cannot hide from the law forever.

“It’s a major accomplishment, it’s a big blow to their leadership, to their capability to train new bombers,” said Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino, who leads assaults against al-Qaida-linked militants. “There are gains being made in the anti-terrrorism campaign in the region.”

An Indonesian counterterrorism official said the militants killed Thursday included alleged bomb-maker Bagus Budi Pranato. The captured militants included a pregnant woman who is being treated at a hospital, national police spokesman Nanan Sukarna said. She was in stable condition.

Police tracked the seven suspects to the town of Solo and besieged a village house on its outskirts overnight. The raid ended near daybreak when an explosion occurred inside the home, Sukarna said.

The operation left behind a charred house with no roof and blown-out walls. The bodies were flown to Jakarta for autopsies.

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