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Noordin Top, a master bomber, headed Southeast Asia's version of Al Qaeda.
Forensic tests revealed days later that it had been Ibrohim, an Indonesian militant who police believe had helped planned July’s bombings. Ibrohim had researched the targets while he was working as a florist inside both hotels.
Though it is a major victory for counterterrorism in Southeast Asia, Noordin is known as a charismatic recruiter and police say he was seeking support right up until his death. It is likely, they say, that he left enough of a support base behind that future attacks are still a possibility.
“Symbolically his death is important. But it doesn’t mean we can rest,” said a senior counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he isn’t allowed to speak to the press.
Jones, writing in a report earlier this month, said Noordin’s ability to recruit in Indonesia had become “disturbingly easy.”
Indonesia has the world’s largest population of Muslims, more than the entire Middle East combined. But the vast majority tend to be moderate, combining Islam with various animist beliefs. A tiny fraction of radicals, however, began to grow when democracy took hold a decade ago and Islamic militant preachers were able to move about and speak more freely.
The Southeast Asian terror network, Jemaah Islamiyah, began to grow in prominence and managed to orchestrate the first Bali bombings in 2002, which killed more than 200 people. The Indonesian government responded quickly, dismantling the militant arm of Jemaah Islamiyah in the years that followed, winning the praise of the Bush administration.
Still, pockets of militants around the country managed to continuously regroup following the arrest or death of senior leaders, drawing on a network of a few dozen Islamic boarding schools affiliated with Jemaah Islamiyah. Noordin came to Indonesia after fleeing Malaysia in 2001 and by 2002 had become a senior leader and fundraiser with Jemaah Islamiyah. He broke away from the group, however, in 2002 when support for violent attacks was waning among Jemaah Islamiyah members. He formed a small splinter group drawn from various other radical organizations and impressionable youth from the Islamic boarding schools, known here as pesantren.
In a video in 2005, Noordin claimed to be Al Qaeda’s representative in Southeast Asia, calling himself “Al Qaeda for the Malay archipelago.”
A four-year lull in bombings, however, led analysts to believe Noordin had been severely weakened. July’s attack changed all that.
“His network is proving to be larger and more sophisticated than previously thought,” wrote Jones in a recent report.