Indonesian police say they may have killed fugitive militant leader Noordin Mohammed Top in a raid early Thursday.
The death of Mr. Noordin – who is suspected of planning every major terrorist attack in Indonesia since 2002 and is considered the most wanted terrorist in Southeast Asia – would mark a significant victory.
But it is not confirmed if he is actually dead. On previous occasions, authorities have claimed to have killed Noordin, only to discover later that he had eluded them.
Reuters reports that police sources said they were “90 percent certain” Mr. Noordin had been killed in the raid that left four people dead. But the national police spokesman said forensic tests would be necessary to identify the bodies. One police source told the news agency he had seen the face of the dead Noordin.
But this is not the first time Indonesian police have claimed to have killed the militant. The Christian Science Monitor reported last month that police said Noordin was probably killed in a raid on a terrorist hideout, but later admitted that he had not died.
Noordin leads an extreme splinter group of the Jemaah Islamiyah Islamist network, and had claimed to be Al Qaeda’s representative in the region. (Read the Monitor’s briefing on JI here.) He is suspected of having masterminded the July 17 bombings at the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta that killed nine and wounded more than 50, as well as the 2002 Bali bombing that killed 202 people.
AFP also reports that three other suspected militants and key members of Noordin’s network may also have been killed, including an associate known as Urwah, and suspected bomb maker Maruto.
If officially confirmed by police, the death of Urwah and Maruto would constitute the loss of key members of Noordin's network, analyst Noor Huda Ismail said.
"Maruto is the guy who knows how to make bombs," said Ismail, who heads the Institute for International Peacebuilding.
"Urwah is the guy who knows recruitment. He is the guy who introduced Noordin to Mohammed Rais," he said, referring to an operative in the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta.
According to Al Jazeera, the house that was stormed was rented by a couple who taught at a local Islamic boarding school. According to the police spokesman, explosives, weapons, and a grenade were discovered at the house. Residents of the town, a JI stronghold, heard shooting overnight, then an explosion around dawn, said Al Jazeera.
Bloomberg reports that if Noordin is really dead, it would be a major blow to the terrorist network in Indonesia.
“His death would be a significant blow to the network but certainly there are other people out there,” said Marcus Mietzner, who lectures on Indonesian security issues at Australian National University in Canberra. “They are recruiting pretty heavily. You have people who can make bombs, who have good logistical skills, but he’s the most respected figure. It would certainly paralyze them for a while.”