Indonesian police kill 2 militants
JAKARTA: Indonesian police hunting the terrorists behind last month's attacks on hotels in the capital raided one house and besieged another Saturday, killing two suspected militants, arresting five and seizing explosives and a car bomb, a senior officer said.
The developments appeared to be the first major break in the investigations into the attacks, which killed nine people and broke a four-year gap in terror strikes in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.
Throughout the night, local media reported that the alleged mastermind of the bombings and three others in Indonesia since 2002, Malaysian Noordin Mohammad Top, was holed up in the houses where gunfire and explosions were still being heard 10 hours after police surrounded it.
TV footage showed anti-terror officers dressed in black behind a shield firing into the house in central Java province from close range, while others fired repeated volleys from a hill behind it. Other unconfirmed reports said Noordin could have been one of those killed or arrested.
Noordin — who is regarded as Southeast Asia's most wanted militant — is suspected in all of Indonesia's major terrorist attacks since 2002, including blasts on the resort island of Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists
Killing or capturing him would be a major victory in Indonesia's fight against militants and could significantly weaken the chances of more attacks, given the key planning, financial and motivational role he is believed to have played in the terror network.
One raid took place close to the capital, Jakarta, early Saturday.
Police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri said two suspected militants holding bombs were killed, while three were arrested, one of whom reserved a room in one of the hotels that was used by the terrorists before they attacked last month.
He said officers seized explosives and a car bomb that was intended for "a specific target" but gave no more details.
The house was about 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the residence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The Detik.com Web site, quoting an unnamed police source, said officers believed Yudhoyono's house could have been the target.
Danuri said suspected booby traps remained in the home.
Meanwhile, dozens of anti-terror officers slowly moved in on an isolated house in a village in central Java province where they said three or four other militants loyal to Noordin were holed up.
After a 10-hour siege in which the militants and police exchanged gunfire, a loud explosion was heard at the house as dawn broke. Minutes later, officers sent remote-controlled robots into the home to search for bombs, a witness in the village said.
Danuri said two suspected militants were arrested at the house or nearby.
Indonesian police have been met with booby traps and suicide bombers in at least one other raid on a terrorist hide-out, and were approaching the house with extreme caution.
Noordin is a Malaysian citizen who claimed in a video in 2005 to be al-Qaida's representative in Southeast Asia and to be carrying out attacks on Western civilians to avenge Muslim deaths in Afghanistan.
Noordin and his associates are the chief suspects in last month's attacks in Jakarta on the Ritz-Carlton and J.W. Marriott hotels, in which two suicide bombers killed seven people, mostly foreigners.
Indonesian police have arrested more than 200 militants associated with the Jemaah Islamiyah terror network since 2002, including many with ties to Noordin, who they say has narrowly escaped capture several times.
Police have offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to his capture. Experts say Noordin is likely being hidden by a small network of sympathizers who might not agree with his tactics, but nevertheless believe they have a duty to shelter him.
Java, home to more than half of Indonesia's 220 million people, has long been the focus in the hunt for Noordin and his associates.
In November 2005, Azahari bin Husin, a top Jemaah Islamiyah bomb maker, was fatally shot by counterterrorism forces in east Java. Sariyah Jabir, another explosives expert, was killed in April 2006 during a raid on a militant hide-out in central Java.
Prosecutors say Noordin orchestrated the 2002 bombings on Bali, an earlier attack on the J.W. Marriott Hotel in 2003, a blast outside the Australian Embassy in 2004, and triple suicide bombings on restaurants in Bali in 2005.
Al-Qaida is believed to have helped fund the first three attacks.
Together, the four strikes killed more than 240 people, many of them Western tourists.