Azahari Bin Husin

Terrorist 'Demolition Man'
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The Independent Online

Azahari bin Husin, statistician and bomb-maker: born Malacca, Malaysia 1957; Associate Professor of Statistics and Valuation, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia 1991-98; married 1994 Wan Noraini Jusoh (two children); died Batu, Indonesia 9 November 2005.

How and why this mild-mannered Malaysian mathematician transformed himself into "Demolition Man", the most wanted fugitive in South-East Asia, is a puzzle which authorities are hard pressed to solve after his violent death last Wednesday.

Azahari bin Husin eluded capture for three years after allegedly supplying explosives to the Islamist extremist group Jemaah Islamiah which has ideological and financial links to al-Qa'ida. Police say his signature car bombs and explosive backpacks were used in at least four suicide attacks against "soft targets" in Bali and Jakarta, leading to the deaths of 245 people, including 26 British tourists in the 2002 Kuta night-club bombings. Azahari was briefly apprehended in Sumatra, but was unrecognised as the bespectacled militant wanted by Interpol for plotting to bomb the US Embassy in Singapore, and he slipped off. But he struck Jakarta's Australian Embassy in September 2004, personally driving his customised car bomb and parking it 300 metres away. Police suspected him of planting similar bombs in August 2003 at the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, where he was seen sketching in the lobby weeks before the explosions.

Fingerprints taken from one of the suspected militants killed in a police raid on a safe house in East Java on 9 November matched Azahari's records. An hour-long gun battle ended dramatically when a militant sheltering inside blew himself up, and police found a stockpile of 30 more explosive devices in the rubble. Documents discovered in a cohort's hideout the plans for a pre-Christmas "bomb party" to be unleashed at Jakarta schools and churches.

Azahari was born in 1957 in Malacca, the cosmopolitan port town 150km south of Kuala Lumpur. At the age of 17, he left home to study in Adelaide, Australia, where he became an avid jogger and a motorcycle aficionado. But the gregarious student dropped his mechanical engineering courses after four years. An Australian classmate, John Cooper, recalls the young Azahari as "bright and cavalier. He seemed to have a healthy disrespect for authority."

When, aged 20, Azahiri returned home, the Iranian revolution was in foment and Islamic students around the world took heed. Asahari did well enough in his statistics coursework in Malaysia to be accepted as a foreign student at Reading University, where he was enrolled in the late 1980s. Contemporaries remember his fondness for women, sport, and fast cars. After submitting his doctoral thesis, he left Britain for employment in Jakarta as a property-market analyst, but found he preferred life in academia. He married a co-lecturer at the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia at Skudai, Johor, where he eventually was appointed Associate Professor of Valuation and known for his lively classes.

It was only when his young Acehnese wife, Noraini, had difficulty conceiving a baby that Azahari turned to religion. Following visits to a Muslim faith healer, she became pregnant and bore two children in quick succession. After she was diagnosed with throat cancer, Azahari became extremely pious. He embraced jihad and was drawn to charismatic leaders such as the Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Baasyir, spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiah. With Noordin Mohamad Top, headmaster of a religious boarding school, he promoted a pan-Muslim territory extending from the southern Philippines to southern Thailand and recruited youths to become martyrs for the cause.

Azahari perfected his bomb-making skills at a jihadi camp in Sadaa, Afghanistan, in 1999, after months of training in Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, and went on to design the Jemaah Islaimah bombers' manual with emphasis on backpack explosives. He attended a meeting in Thailand with Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, who was considered Osama bin Laden's point man in South-East Asia. After Hambali's arrest in August 2003, Azahari rose through the organisation's ranks.

Counter-terrorism experts have described Azahari as a master of disguise. But in the past few years, officials said, he invariably wore an explosive belt around his waist to avoid being captured alive.

One of Azahari's former students, Lum Chih Feng, recalled his teacher's enthusiasm for English Premier League football. He preferred close-fitting Western clothes and rarely wore an Islamic skullcap and robe except at the mosque.

Shortly after his second baby was born in 2001, Azahari left home, telling his wife: "I have a greater cause in life. It is to serve God."

Jan McGirk