Indonesian terrorist Noordin used veil to elude police
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Last Updated: Friday, September 18, 2009, 13:54
  
Jakarta: The death of Indonesia's most-wanted terror leader in a raid this week closes one of the country's biggest manhunts — a seven-year chase for a charismatic militant who taught followers to build bombs and wore veils to elude capture.

Authorities who had scoured much of Southeast Asia for Noordin Top finally ended their search on Thursday in a police shootout at a safe house in central Java.

Despite a reward of USD 100,000 and numerous premature reports that the Malaysian national had been killed, police say Noordin was able to evade authorities and at the same time have a hand in every major recent terror attack in Indonesia.

According to one former associate, Noordin was extremely cautious during his time on the run, never using a mobile phone and always having at least two guards with him whenever he went outside.

Sometimes he would even don a veil and disguise himself as a woman, said Nasir Abas, who helped train Noordin as a former commander for Jemaah Islamiyah but who now works with the government to help rehabilitate arrested terrorists.

But it was his charisma and his drive to convert new followers, much like that of his idol Osama bin Laden, that allowed his militant network to function even under such scrutiny, Abas said.

"He was always full of creative ideas and was ambitious to be a leader," Abas said in an interview. "He was a good speaker and had the ability to convince people to support his ideas and recruit suicide bombers."

Noordin claimed to have taught 1,000 followers how to make bombs and carry out suicide attacks, said Al Chaidar, a terrorism expert and lecturer at Malikussaleh University in Aceh province who met Noordin in 2005 while researching a book.

"His voice, his intonation was very special, and that impressed many people," Chaidar said.

Noordin's extremist ideology alienated most Indonesians, who usually follow a moderate version of Islam, but appealed to a core of hardened followers.

"He was the only major extremist leader in Indonesia, probably in Malaysia and Singapore too, who remained committed to the al Qaeda version of history, which says that the United States is the major enemy of Islam and therefore a war has to be waged on America and its allies," said Sidney Jones, a terrorism analyst at think tank International Crisis Group.

Police say Noordin's attacks included the 2002 and 2005 suicide bombings on the resort island of Bali and the July 17 attacks on the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta. In all he is thought to be responsible for the deaths of 222 people, mostly foreigners.

Regional leaders have cheered Noordin's demise and were optimistic his death could help undermine terror groups throughout Southeast Asia.

"This is a very significant result," Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said in an interview on Friday on Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio

"This man has been a mass murderer," he said. "He's been responsible for the murder of Australians."

Some analysts saw Noordin's death as another step toward stability in Southeast Asia's biggest country, which has been emerging from the 32-year authoritarian reign of former president Suharto that ended in 1998.

Indonesia's economy has weathered the global recession well, and is poised to grow more than 4 percent this year, the most of any Southeast Asian country.

"The outlook does seem to be brighter for Indonesia, especially if they can get a handle this problem with the terrorists," said David Cohen of the consultancy Action Economics.

“They're potentially one of the major players on the world scene."

Abas, however, warned that Noordin's terror skills were likely to be passed on to the next generation of militants.

"Though he was killed, it does not mean that the terror threat in Indonesia has ended," he said.

Bureau Report


First Published: Friday, September 18, 2009, 13:54


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