Noordin gives police a
slip yet again

Suherdjoko, Slamet Susanto and Dadan Wijaksana, The Jakarta Post, Wonosobo, Kuwait City

Indonesia's most wanted terrorist suspect, Noordin M. Top, has again eluded the police after a dramatic dawn raid on a hideout ended in the deaths of two of his accomplices and the arrests of two others.

Members of the special police antiterror squad stormed the blue and white house in Binangun village, Wonosobo, after three months of surveillance.

Eyewitnesses said several loud explosions were heard during the one-hour operation, in which the occupants fired back at the police, who had surrounded the house hours before.

After visiting the battle scene, National Police chief Gen. Sutanto confirmed that Noordin, a top figure in the Al-Qaeda linked Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist network in Southeast Asia, was not in the house.

""We'll continue tracking him down,"" Sutanto said.

Police identified those killed as bomb makers Abdul Hadi and Jabir, who were involved in bombings in Jakarta and other areas.

Sutanto said those killed and captured had played key roles in numerous terrorist attacks in Indonesia, the worst being the 2002 Bali bomb, which took 202 lives, mostly foreign tourists.

Abdul, who used aliases such as Bambang and Baharudin Saleh, was a suicide bomber recruiter and instructor. ""He was the narrator in the video footage of the jihadist group we seized in Malang (East Java, following Azahari's death),"" Sutanto said.

Jabir aka Mujabir is believed to have been the top aide of both Noordin and his Malaysian compatriot bomb expert Dr. Azahari bin Husin, who was killed when police stormed his hideout in Batu, East Java, last year. Together with Azahari, Jabir made the bombs used in the 2003 attack on the J.W. Marriott Hotel and the Australian embassy blast in 2004, which killed 11 bystanders.

Noordin's arrested accomplices were identified as Solahudin alias Sukri aka Dani, who was implicated in the 2001 Atrium Senen and 2000 church bombings, and Muhtafirin, Azahari's courier.

Police believed Noordin frequently visited the house near a market, which was rented by four people who posed as textile and corn traders.

Neighbors said the five suspects had rented the house late last year for Rp 1.5 million a month and had rarely communicated with locals.

""I saw them sell used clothes,"" said Abror, 51, who lives 75 meters from the rented house.

Sugiyono, a security guard for a bus company next to the house, said he was acquainted with his new neighbors. ""I went into the house several times. There were boxes and the computer was always on and any time I came, they would switch the program to a poker game,"" he said.

Sutanto said the fugitive Noordin, whose photograph has been displayed in public places, was the top recruiter for JI, which has been linked to numerous bombings in Indonesia.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, currently on a state visit to Kuwait, praised the police for their success in tracking down members of Noordin's terror group.

""I really appreciate the police for their hard work,"" he said at an unscheduled media briefing given after reports of the police operation broke.

""The operations have to be continued without sparking unnecessary fear among the public.""

Quoting reports from the National Police Chief, the President said Noordin might well still be in Central Java.

Observers believed that Noordin had long ago split from Azahari and formed a new, more militant terror group. He gave the police the slip in November when his hiding place in Semarang, Central Java was raided a few days after Azahari was killed.

Central Java is generally regarded as JI's main recruiting ground. (03)

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