Terror Mastermind Noordin Still at Large

JAKARTA ~ Malaysian terror mastermind Noordin Mohammed Top is still at large in Indonesia and was not killed in a raid on the weekend, police said after the latest near-miss in a six-year manhunt.

DNA tests showed that a militant killed in the raid was not the terror financier and recruiter, one of Asia’s most-wanted men, but an accomplice who had helped plan the July 17 hotel bombings in Jakarta, they said.

The dead man, Ibrohim, had also been groomed to launch a suicide attack against President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono later this month.

“I announce officially that the war against terrorism has not ended yet,” police spokesman Nanan Soekarna told a press conference on Wednesday, in a blow to the authorities’ efforts to crush Indonesia’s most dangerous terror network.

“The dead body is Ibrohim… We tried to match the DNA with the sample from Johor (Noordin’s son) and it didn’t match.”

Ibrohim was a florist who worked at the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels, where seven people including foreigners were killed in almost simultaneous suicide attacks last month.

Police released new security camera footage showing a man identified as Ibrohim escorting the Marriott bomber around the hotel on July 8 and later bringing bomb-making material into the hotel’s staff-only loading bay.

“Ibrohim was a planner who was always present in the meetings with Noordin M. Top,” Soekarna said.

“He was going to be a suicide bomber against Cikeas,” Yudhoyono’s home outside Jakarta, the spokesman added, referring to another plot uncovered by police on Saturday.

Soekarna revealed that ahead of the July 17 attacks Noordin had attended planning meetings in Kuningan, Central Java, Bekasi outside Jakarta and Mampang, a Jakarta suburb.

Police killed two would-be suicide bombers and uncovered a massive cache of explosive materials during a raid on a house in Bekasi before dawn on Saturday.

A truck bomb found at the house was going to be used by Ibrohim to attack Yudhoyono’s principal residence around Independence Day celebrations on August 17, police said.

Noordin, 41, leads what he calls “Al Qaeda in the Malay Archipelago,” an offshoot of the Jemaah Islamiyah regional terror organisation blamed for the 2002 Bali attacks that killed 202 people, mainly Western tourists.

Police had received a tip-off that the Islamist was hiding in a farmhouse in Central Java on Friday and launched a massive raid by scores of heavily armed counterterrorism police.

Local and international media reported the Malaysian had been killed during the 17-hour siege, raising hopes that the exhaustive manhunt had come to an end.

Noordin has already escaped two earlier armed assaults on his hideouts, and his legend will likely only grow among his disciples and on Islamist websites.

Pressure will also mount on Indonesia’s US-trained counterterrorism forces to track him down before he can do further damage to the country’s hard-earned image as a stable and moderate Muslim-majority country.

“All of us really hope that he can be caught soon, but the fact we’re facing now is we haven’t been able to catch him,” Soekarna said, saying it was unclear if Noordin had ever been in the Central Java farmhouse.

“We have foiled attacks but it doesn’t mean that they have stopped preparing more attacks, which we have to anticipate.”

Noordin has allegedly plotted a series of suicide blasts against prominent Western targets in Indonesia since 2003, including two bombings at the Jakarta Marriott and a massive suicide truck blast at the Australian embassy in 2004.

Three Noordin accomplices have been arrested and three killed by police in connection to the latest hotel attacks, but another three to five unidentified suspects are being pursued, Soekarna said.

Senior counter-terror official Ansyad Mbai said that far from failing, police had succeeded in foiling a major attack against the president.

“We have discovered that their targets are not only the West and America but also domestic, meaning the president. They see democracy as a threat,” he said.

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