- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2009

SOLO, Indonesia | Special forces raided a hide-out Thursday and killed militant mastermind Noordin Muhammed Top, striking at the heart of the terrorist network behind a deadly campaign of suicide attacks in Indonesia, including the Bali nightclub bombings.

It was the latest success against terror figures worldwide, starting with a U.S. missile that took out a key Taliban commander in Pakistan last month.

Besides knocking out Southeast Asia’s most-wanted man, Thursday’s operation also netted a fugitive bombmaker believed to have designed explosives for twin suicide bombings at luxury hotels in Jakarta in July.

A cunning and charismatic figure, Noordin, 41, had eluded capture for more than seven years. He was tracked down at a house in the city of Solo in central Java, a breeding ground for militant Islam, where an overnight siege and hours-long gunfight ended at dawn with an explosion.

The bodies of four suspects were recovered from the burned-out house, including Noordin and a purported explosives expert, Bagus Budi Pranato, believed to have manufactured the bombs used by suicide attackers in the July 17 attacks on the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels that killed seven and wounded more than 50.

Neighbors said the property was rented five months ago by a young couple who were teaching at a nearby Islamic school. The husband was among those killed in the firefight and his wife, who was pregnant, was wounded but was in stable condition at a hospital.

The prime target was Noordin, a Malaysian citizen and feared regional leader of al Qaeda with links to Osama bin Laden, said national police chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri.

Documents and laptop computers confiscated from the house prove that Noordin “is the leader of al Qaeda in Southeast Asia,” he said. Police also recovered hundreds of pounds of explosives, M-16 assault rifles, grenades and bombs.

Noordin’s fingerprints, obtained from Malaysian authorities and stored on an Indonesian police database, matched those of one of the bodies, Mr. Danuri said.

Indonesia had mounted one of the biggest manhunts in its history to try to capture Noordin, widely distributing his photo and offering a $100,000 reward for information that led to his arrest. Yet he repeatedly managed to evade authorities, most recently in August when, after an all-night raid on a safe house, the police discovered they had killed the wrong man.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono hailed Thursday’s operation, saying it had removed a feared figure who “disturbed the life of this country, ruined our image in the international community and paralyzed the national economy.”

A skilled bombmaker, Noordin has been implicated in every major recent attack in Indonesia, including 2002 and 2005 suicide bombings on the resort island of Bali that together killed 222 people, mostly foreigners.

The Obama administration welcomed the operation as “a significant step forward for Indonesia in its battle with political extremists,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. He said the U.S. did not take part or provide intelligence that led to the raid.

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