KEDU, Indonesia, (Reuters) – Indonesian police shot dead a man suspected to be leading Islamic militant Noordin Mohammad Top after an 18-hour siege in Central Java and planned to confirm his identity using DNA tests, police said on Saturday.
Police in a separate raid foiled a plot to attack Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s residence outside the capital, Jakarta, with a car bomb, officials said.
Malaysian-born Top is a prime suspect in last month’s near simultaneous suicide attacks on Jakarta’s JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels which killed nine people and wounded 53.
Yudhoyono has vowed to track down the bombers and if Top has been killed or captured it would be major coup for security forces and could reduce the chance of further attacks.
Police planned to seek a DNA sample from the family of Top to confirm his death after a shoot-out in Central Java, national police chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri told a news conference.
“We welcome if the family, the wife wants to see the face. If this is Noordin Top then please let us check the DNA. If this is done then we can say who this,” he said. Police have launched a series of raids since Friday and two police sources close to the investigation into the hotel attacks said a man suspected to be Top was killed in Temanggung, over 250 miles southeast of Jakarta.
“He was shot dead,” one source said, adding that raids in the area had led police to a house in Bekasi, on the outskirts of the capital, where up to 500 kg of bombs had been found. A Reuters correspondent in Bekasi heard a loud blast from the cordoned-off area and police said they had killed two suspected militants.
“I think this is very significant. Hopefully the person in Temanggung is Noordin,” said national police spokesman Nanan Soekarna.
The militants were planning a sucide car bomb attack on the residence of President Yudhoyono in Bogor near Jakarta, the police chief said. He added that the militants planned to use a minibus packed with explosives to target Yudhoyono, after holding him responsible for the execution of the Bali bombers last year.
Intelligence officials say Top, 40, and fellow Malaysian Azahari Husin, a bomb-maker who was killed in a 2005 police raid, were leaders in the Jemaah Islamiah militant network, blamed for a series of bomb attacks in Indonesia since 2002.
Top is believed to have planned previous bomb attacks on the JW Marriott in Jakarta in 2003, on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in 2004 and in Bali in 2005.
Security consultant Ken Conboy said Top was key to the network with his skills of recruiting suicide bombers.
“If you look at the history of violent radicalism in Indonesia, once they wrap up the main players, it goes into a period of hiatus for a time,” he said.
Andi Wijayanto, a security expert at the University of Indonesia, said getting Top would be “a significant blow to the group as its leader has been killed and its logistics have been hurt”.
On Friday, police had said two men who were believed to be Top’s bodyguards had been arrested in a workshop in a market in the village of Temanggung and had led police to a small, red-roofed house in the same area, surrounded by trees and rice fields, where there was a shoot-out and overnight standoff with suspected militants.
On Saturday, after sporadic exchanges of gunfire, explosions shook the house followed by further shooting. Then TV footage showed police carrying items from inside the house and laughing and shaking hands with colleagues.
A body was brought out and put in a wooden coffin.
“At the beginning, we didn’t believe that it was a terrorist or even Noordin, but now we do,” said neighbour Kosidah Basuki.
A body that may be Top’s was being flown from Central Java to a Jakarta police hospital for identification, the state Antara news agency quoted Yogyakarta Police Chief Sunaryono as saying.
In Bekasi, two men were shot dead after throwing a pipe bomb at police — one a suspected bomb-maker and the other linked to a 2004 attack on the Australian embassy, said spokesman Soekarna. He said two other suspects believed to be involved in recruiting suicide bombers were still on the run.