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Indonesian commandos kill terrorist leader

Noordin Top, a master bomber, headed Southeast Asia's version of Al Qaeda.

Images of leading Islamic militant Noordin Mohammad Top are seen in a wanted poster at a police station in Malang, East Java, Aug. 8, 2009. Top was killed in a police shoot-out in Central Java, police said on Thursday. (Handout/Reuters)

JAKARTA — Ending a six-year national dragnet, Indonesia’s elite counterterrorism force killed the self-proclaimed leader of Southeast Asia’s version of Al Qaeda Thursday in a dramatic six-hour firefight in the central Javanese city of Solo.

Malaysian-born Noordin Mohammed Top has been behind every terrorist bombing in Indonesia since 2003: the first Jakarta Marriot hotel bombing that year, the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing, the 2005 Bali bombings and July’s coordinated attacks on the Marriot and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta that killed seven people, six of them foreigners. More than 50 people were also injured in that attack.

“In this holy month of Ramadan the country of Indonesia has been blessed,” Bambang Hendarso Danuri, Indonesia’s chief of police, said at a press conference. “This is a gift.”

It also removes a big security threat to U.S. President Barack Obama, who's planning to visit his former childhood home later this year.

The police acted on a tip given to them by two suspects arrested just hours before the raid began. The suspects said they believed several militants were hiding out in a small house in Solo, a city known as a bastion of radical activity. Police did not know Noordin was inside at the time.

At about midnight Thursday, police evacuated villagers surrounding the house and through a loudspeaker asked the militants to come outside with their hands in the air. The militants began firing, sparking a six-hour shootout. At about 4 a.m., an explosion went off inside the house, leading to speculation that the militants had detonated a suicide bomb to avoid arrest. Rumors had long swirled that Noordin had explosives strapped to his body at all times. Police, however, said the militants were killed by gunfire.

After Noordin’s body was brought to a Jakarta hospital, it was so badly mutilated that it took forensic experts hours to identify him.

Inside the house, which had been blasted apart, police said they found 200 kilograms of explosives, an M-16 machine gun with bullets, a laptop and documents. The documents, they said, pointed to several connections between the militants and Al Qaeda, but they did not elaborate.

The commandos also killed Bagus Budi Pranato in the raid. Known as Urwah, he is a reputed bombmaker thought to be involved in July’s bombings. Urwah is known to be one of Noordin’s closest associates and helped Noordin coordinate the Australian Embassy bombing before his arrest several months before. He was released in April 2007, only three and a half years later.

Sidney Jones, an analyst with the International Crisis Group in Jakarta, said Urwah was able to re-establish contact with Noordin almost immediately after his release, revealing how well-connected Indonesia’s militants are.

The two others killed were Adib Susilo, who rented the house, and Aji, who police said was a protege of the Malaysian Azahari Husin, a master bombmaker who came to Indonesia alongside Noordin but was killed by Indonesian police during a 2005 raid on his house.

Noordin had reached almost legendary status in militant circles for his almost magical ability to evade capture. In the last six years he has been minutes away from being caught on half a dozen occasions. He was nearly caught last month when police raided a farmhouse in central Java. The ensuing 16-hour shootout, however, turned up only one body.