Man behind Bali bombing dies in police shoot-out

Indonesian officials say al-Qa'ida's leader in South-east Asia is killed in 16-hour siege
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The Independent Online

Noordin Mohammad Top, south-east Asia's most wanted terror suspect, who is believed to be behind the Bali nightclub bombing, is reported to have been killed during a 16-hour siege on a suspected militant hide-out that ended yesterday when police stormed the house.

Local TV stations reported that the body of Top, who is blamed for last month's attacks on two US hotels in the capital, Jakarta, was found in a house in a rice-growing village in central Java province after a lengthy bomb and gun battle. A police spokesman said officers at the scene had information that up to four militants were inside the house, including Top. Officers said the body, found in the bathroom of the house, would be identified by DNA tests.

The 17 July suicide attacks on the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels killed seven people, all but one of them foreigners, and ended a four-year pause in terror strikes in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Top is also believed to have played a major role in four other bombings in Indonesia since 2002, including nightclub attacks on the resort island of Bali that year, which killed 202 people. He later emerged as a regional terrorist leader and skilled bombmaker who has been accused of masterminding a series of suicide attacks – including the triple Bali bombings in 2005 – that killed dozens of people.

Top, a Malaysian citizen, claimed in a 2005 video to be al-Qa'ida's representative in south-east Asia and to be carrying out attacks on Western civilians to avenge the deaths of Muslims in Afghanistan. Police have offered a US$100,000 reward for information leading to his capture. Experts say Top was probably being hidden by a small network of sympathisers who, though they might not agree with his tactics, nevertheless believed they had a duty to shelter him.

Indonesian police have arrested more than 200 militants associated with the Jemaah Islamiyah terror network since 2002, including many with ties to Top, who they say has narrowly escaped capture several times. Java, home to more than half of Indonesia's 220 million people, has long been the focus of the hunt for Top and his associates.

In November 2005, Azahari bin Husin, a top Jemaah Islamiyah bombmaker, was shot dead by security forces in east Java. Sariyah Jabir, another explosives expert, was killed in April 2006 during a raid in central Java.

Prosecutors say Top also orchestrated earlier Jakarta attacks on the Marriott Hotel in 2003 and on the Australian embassy in 2004. In all, the bombings linked by authorities to Top have killed more than 240 people, many of them Western tourists.

Earlier yesterday, officers raided a second house close to Jakarta where they shot and killed two suspected militants and seized bombs and a car rigged to carry them.

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