Indonesian authorities are “very confident” that the man killed during a dramatic 17-hour standoff Saturday morning is wanted terrorist Noordin Mohammed Top.
“We had this person under surveillance for a week and followed him wherever he went,” a source inside the investigation told the daily Kompas. “We created a detailed profile on him. We knew where he went and what he ate. We even knew that he always slept in cemeteries.”
The source said Noordin shied away from cell phones but left an electronic trail on the Internet, which led them to his trusted courier: the nephew of the man whose home was at the center of the standoff, Indra Arif Hermawan, who is also known as Arif and Indra. “The courier that became Noordin’s communications lifeline was Arif. He was picked up before police descended on the house in Temanggung.”
Arif and his brother Aris Susanto, also known as Hendra, worked at a motorcycle repair shop in Temanggung and were already known to authorities. Their cousin, Tataq Lusiyanto, was detained in 2006 for involvement in the 2003 JW Marriott bombing. Tataq’s father, Mudjahri , owned the farm house and is also under suspicion of supporting the hardline Jemaah Islamiyah network.
Arif and Aris gained a bad reputation in the community and were considered “thugs and drug dealers.” A former classmate who has known them since their childhood told the press that they only became religious three years ago after getting married. He said that they were village bullies and that in the early 2000s Aris began dealing in drugs and got into trouble with the law. Aris was expelled from school three times and had to change schools over four times before earning his high school diploma. Arif never completed high school, he said.
Police closed in on Noordin’s trail after a cell he was maintaining in Cilacap, Central Java, was disrupted in late June. Police monitored the movement of Noordin’s hardliners and picked up intelligence that the Arif and Aris brothers were advertising their uncle’s house in remote Beji village as a safe and quiet place to regroup. The village lies in a sleepy valley surrounded by rice paddies and tobacco farms but is accessible from Semarang and other urban centers in Central Java.
The investigation did not rely solely on the information gleaned from Arif and Aris’s arrest Friday afternoon. According to the police source, authorities also had eyewitness reports from neighbors who knew Noordin as “Romi.” He had become much thinner than Noordin was thought to be.
“We must remember,” the source said, “that the photos we had of Noordin were taken in the early 2000s. Many years of being on the run has taken a toll on him. It’s exactly what we discovered when we identified (Noordin’s accomplice) Dr. Azahari. At that time we were surprised at how skinny Dr. Azahari had become.”
Dr. Azahari bin Hussein committed suicide in November 2005 during a standoff with police in Batu, East Java. He was a trained engineer who had studied in the UK and Australia and became Jemaah Islamiyah’s main bombmaker.
The Indonesian government is awaiting the results of DNA testing before making an official statement, which could come as early as this week.
Noordin Mohammed Top became Southeast Asia’s most wanted fugitive following the 2003 attack on the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta. Originally from Malaysia, he served as a military commander for Jemaah Islamiyah before establishing his own cells across Indonesia in 2003. He united the cells into a formal network called Tandzim al-Qo’idatul Indonesia in late 2005 and early 2006, and he is believed to have masterminded the 2003 attack as well as the 2004 attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta, the second Bali bombings in 2005, and the twin attacks on the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta on July 17, 2009.
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