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Indonesia eyes militant networks after Noordin killing

Experts say Noordin's death Thursday gives Indonesia a window to recalibrate its battle to confront other militants.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 18, 2009

Bangkok, Thailand

As Indonesians take stock of the death of Noordin Top, Southeast Asia's most wanted terrorist, attention is switching to the militant network that he spawned in Indonesia.

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Mr. Noordin was a charismatic, university-educated Malaysian who moved to Indonesia in 2002. There he built bombs, trained young recruits, and helped organize attacks on Western targets. These included the bombing of the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta in 2003, an attack in 2004 on the Australian Embassy, and, most recently, suicide bombings at the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels on July 17.

Authorities said he died Thursday in an overnight police raid on a safe house in central Java, along with two accomplices. His death came one month after police killed a militant linked to the July 17 bombings who was mistakenly identified as Noordin. Police said this time they had matched his fingerprints.

Noordin taxed authorities with his ability to evade police dragnets, switch operational tactics, and seed new terror cells. While others are certain to try to take his place, they may struggle to replace him, giving Indonesia some breathing space to recalibrate its response to extremism, say experts on Islamic militancy in Southeast Asia.

"When he recruited someone, he had a track record [in terrorism]. There are other individuals who have credentials and charisma, but they don't have the same track record as Noordin," says Noor Huda Ismail, a security expert who runs the International Institute for Peacebuilding in Indonesia.

Eyeing resilience of country's militants

But focusing on one man, however dangerous, may overlook the resilience of militant groups in Indonesia, a majority-Muslim democracy with a radical fringe. The death in 2005 of Azahari Hussin, a Malaysian explosives expert seen as Noordin's lieutenant, only proved a temporary setback for terrorism.

"Indonesia may become complacent after his death. But the threat is far from over," says Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore.

A parallel problem is the release of detained militants who have served jail sentences in Indonesia under often lax conditions. At least three of the suspects in the July 17 bombings were former prisoners, according to Mr. Noor, who advises prison officials on how to deal with such detainees.

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