Islamic militants suspected as death toll hits 26

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The Independent Online

Azahari bin Husin and Noordin Mohamed Top have been south-east Asia's most wanted men since bombings in Bali three years ago left 202 people dead. Bin Husin, known in Malaysia as "Demolition Man", completed a doctorate in property valuation at Reading University in the 1990s. Mohamed Top, who trained in Australia, is nicknamed "Moneyman".

Both are key figures in Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the terrorist group linked to al-Qa'ida that is blamed for Saturday's bombings in Bali.

Its most prominent henchman, Hambali, was tracked down in Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok, two months before the first attack in Bali. But his detention has not wiped out the network, which advocates a pan-Islamic homeland across south-eastAsia, and he may have misledhis interrogators with falsetestimony.

While Indonesian police have arrested, tried and convicted at least 250 JI operatives in the past three years, some, including Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, the movement's spiritual leader, have received lenient sentences due to sketchy evidence. Many are considered small fry in the terror network and the two men suspected of plotting the 2002 Bali bombs remain at large.

Now middle-aged, Azahari left Malaysia to study mechanical engineering in Australia in the 1970s before his arrival in Britain. He also sought weapons training in the southern Philippines and in Afghanistan.

Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based analyst with the International Crisis Centre, said: "It's tooearly to make direct linkages. There is no definitive certainty that JI is behind these bombs. They are highly suspect, butpossibly it's a copycat effort."

Some have speculated the attacks could be the work of a group seeking to destabilise the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono or people upset by massive fuel price hikes his government has just implemented.

Police had no solid intelligence to suggest either that Azahari or Noordin, 35, were in Bali or linked to the latest attacks. They have both been fugitives since fleeing to Indonesia to escape a Malaysian crackdown imposed after the 9/11 attacks in the US.

By the time the two men allegedly plotted to blow up the two nightclubs in Bali in 2002, Azahari had become an expert in mixing explosives. It was but a small step from there to devising explosive vests or belts of the kind believed to have been used in Saturday's bombings, a Malaysian security official said on condition of anonymity.

The Indonesian police chief Made Mangku Pastika said of the three suicide bombers: "There is evidence that the explosive materials were attached to the body. There are pieces from either a jacket or a bag that were attached to the bodies."

He said the severed heads of three people believed to be the suicide bombers had been recovered. Photographs of the heads displayed by police appeared to show they were young Asian men.

Police said a family had unwittingly captured one of the bombers on video. They are studying the video footage of the man dressed in black shirt and jeans, seen walking into a restaurant with something on his back. He disappears from screen just seconds before there is a bright flash as the bomb explodes.