BATU, Indonesia (Reuters) -Indonesian police on Thursday confirmed one of Southeast Asia”s most wanted militants had been killed during a gunbattle with police, saying he tried to blow himself up but failed to detonate a bomb in time.
National police chief General Sutanto said fingerprint tests proved Azahari Husin was one of two militants killed in the town of Batu in East Java province on Wednesday. Azahari was either shot dead or killed when a fellow militant exploded a bomb.
Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia and security experts welcomed the death of Azahari, a master bombmaker blamed for a string of attacks in recent years, but some cautioned it would not eliminate the threat of radical violence in the region.
"The identification of the suspect at the crime scene according to the fingerprint data was identical to Azahari," Sutanto told reporters in Batu.
"The condition of Azahari”s corpse is that it was severed around the legs and torso. He was not able to reach the button (of a bomb) because officers shot him first, but the other one was able to commit a suicide bombing."
That made it hard to determine what actually killed Azahari, said Sutanto, adding police found 30 bombs inside the house where he had holed up.
Dubbed the "demolition man" by newspapers in his native Malaysia, Azahari was the suspected brains behind several bomb attacks on Western targets in Indonesia and the top bomb maker in Jemaah Islamiah, a shadowy network linked to al Qaeda.
Authorities say the electronics expert designed and supervised the making of the car bomb that caused the most damage in 2002 attacks on the resort island of Bali which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
Ansyaad Mbai, who heads Indonesia”s anti-terrorist coordinating board, said it was too early to declare victory.
"A movement with ideological and political motives won”t die, even if the leading figure dies," he told Reuters.
Jemaah Islamiah would not be crippled by Azahari”s death, but it would be a major step in the war on terrorism, said Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
"It is a huge advance, but we are going to be embroiled in this struggle for years," he said.
Analysts said Azahari”s death would be a political boost for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, at a time of negative headlines over surging inflation and deadly bird flu.
"It is very positive for sure. He (Azahari) has been the main target of the police," said political analyst Andi Widjajanto.
OTHER MILITANTS HUNTED Speaking in Bangkok, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said he was hopeful Azahari”s death might help authorities locate his partner in previous attacks, Noordin M. Top, also Malaysian and a senior member of Jemaah Islamiah.
While Azahari has been the key Jemaah Islamiah bombmaker, Top”s special talent has been in recruiting suicide bombers in poverty-stricken Indonesia, security experts have said.
Besides searching the Batu house for evidence, police on Wednesday detained a man in the Central Java city of Semarang who had taken explosives and ammunition from the hideout.
Police said that during the Wednesday shoot-out, the two militants threw bombs as well as fired guns. One policeman was wounded by gunfire, they said.
East Java province lies adjacent to Bali, where three suicide bombers killed 20 people on October 1 in the latest attack. Police said on Thursday for the first time that they had evidence linking Azahari to those attacks also.