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Analysis: Meet Noordin M. Top, the most-wanted man in Indonesia.
Former friends within Jemaah Islamiyah have continued to protect Top from authorities but fewer and fewer among the group’s ranks are willing to adopt violent tactics, Jones said.
As a result, Noordin M. Top is increasingly on his own and investigations are increasingly focused on catching him.
Just weeks before the bombings investigators came close, when one of Top's closest associates, Saifuddin Zuhri, also known as Sabit, who was trained in Afghanistan under Osama bin Laden, was arrested during raids in Central Java. Police said that as a result, Top moved forward the attack, fearing that Sabit would spill plans to police.
Evidence gathered after the bombings seems to indicate a certain amount of hastiness. Counterterrorism officials — speaking on the condition of anonymity because they aren’t allowed to speak to the press — said evidence suggested that the bombings were moved up, such as the discovery of a laptop bomb in the hotel room where the bombers were staying that was inexplicably left behind.
The most recent bombings resembled older attacks by Top in so much as the target and the kinds of bombs used. But it wasn’t the masterfully executed plan counterterror forces are used to seeing from him – leading them to believe that they have Top on the run.
But terrorism experts are less optimistic, pointing to the vast social network Top, who is a cunning recruiter, has at his disposal. Indonesia’s terrorist networks have proved resilient in the past and have managed to rebuild quickly after high profile arrests, largely because of Top’s skills as a motivator.
There are dozens of Islamic boarding schools, which in Indonesia are known as Pesantran, that are thought to be affiliated with terrorist groups and which offer thousands of recruits, Jones said. There are also informal connections between certain mosques, prisons and businesses.
In Central Java, a loose consortium of radical Islamic publishers have been churning out books calling for violent Jihad now for years. One of those publishers recently released a three-volume set of works written by the so-called Bali bombers who were executed last year.
“The social network of Jemaah Islamiyah and other like-minded groups is strong and available to Noordin,” Jones said. “Jemaah Islamiyah members have in the past provided protection for Noordin, and one reason he is so difficult to catch is that people from this network are reluctant to turn him in.”
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