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Noordin Mohammed Top: elusive terror mastermind

world Updated: Aug 08, 2009 14:40 IST

AFP
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Malaysian Islamist Noordin Mohammed Top, the man allegedly behind a series of suicide bombings in Indonesia dating back to 2003, is one of Asia's most-wanted and elusive militant leaders.

But his long and bloody game of cat-and-mouse with Indonesia's US-trained elite counter-terrorism forces may have come to an end in a storm of gunfire during a raid on a suspected hideout in Central Java Saturday.

His death has been reported by local television but police would confirm only that they believed the 40-year-old former accountant was hiding in the house when it was besieged by security forces late Friday.

At least three people are known to have died in the subsequent shootout, but none has been identified.

Last month's attacks on the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels were the latest to bear the hallmarks of Noordin, leader of the most violent spin-off of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) regional terror network, police have said.

The self-proclaimed leader of "Al-Qaeda in the Malay Archipelago" received funding from the real Al-Qaeda via an intermediary to launch his first attack in 2003, but his current links to Osama bin Laden's group are unknown.

Even so she shares the same visions of global jihad, or "holy war," against the United States and its allies as a counter-strike to the perceived oppression of Muslims by the West.

Police have accused Noordin of masterminding attacks on Jakarta's Marriott hotel that killed 12 people in 2003, as well as a 2004 strike on the Australian embassy that killed 10 and the 2005 bombings on Bali that killed 20.

Noordin's ability to elude police using a loose network of sympathetic Islamists and extended family connections has cast a shadow over largely successful Indonesian efforts to wind back militancy.

He stayed true to an ideology of spectacular violence in spite of strides made by the government in curtailing JI with a combination of sweeping arrests and inducements.

While much of JI turned away from attacks on Western and government targets, Noordin remained as a potent leader of a minority faction untroubled by the prospect of mass civilian casualties.

Noordin was one of a handful of militants who have managed to sow fear while remaining on the run.

Bomb experts Dulmatin and Umar Patek have evaded capture and are widely believed to be in the southern Philippines, while Zulkarnaen, reportedly the Al-Qaeda pointman in Southeast Asia, also remains on the run.

The long, six-year hunt for Noordin produced a steady flow of near-misses.

In October 2003 Noordin and his Malaysian master bomb-maker Azhari Husin fled a police raid on their rented hideout in Bandung city, West Java. Azhari was eventually killed in a shoot-out with police in 2005.

Noordin escaped arrest again when the police raided several homes in Central Java in October 2005, and in November the same year.

Local media last year also reported that Noordin narrowly evaded capture in East Java after seeking treatment for a liver illness.

A woman believed to be his third wife was arrested in Central Java in the days after the July 17 blasts.

She told police she believed her husband and father of her two children was a kind man who spent long periods away on business as the publicity agent for an Islamic school.