One of Southeast Asia's most-wanted terrorists escaped capture when security forces launched a raid on his hideout early Saturday, sparking a gunbattle that left two militants dead, police said.

Noordin Top, regarded as a key leader of the Al Qaeda-linked group Jemaah Islamiyah, was not in the safe house when heavily armed police arrived before dawn, police spokesman Brig. Gen. Anton Bahrul Alam told el-Shinta radio.

Authorities started staking out the location in Binangun, a village in Central Java, three months ago, he said as he headed to the scene by helicopter.

"But when they launched their raid at around 3 a.m., he was gone," Alam said.

Residents told el-Shinta they heard a fierce hour-long gun and grenade battle at around 5 a.m., and that helicopters were flying overhead. Roads leading to the house were blocked off and ambulances on standby.

National police chief Gen. Sutanto told el-Shinta that two suspects — identified as Abdul Hadi, also known as Bambang, and Jabir — were killed in a firefight and authorities in the capital said two others were arrested.

Abdul Hadi and Jabir, both alleged explosives experts, are accused of participating in a failed assassination attempt against former President Megawati Sukarnoputri in 2003 and an attack on the Australian Embassy in September 2004.

Noordin was accused of direct involvement in at least four terror attacks: the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists; two bombings in Jakarta in 2003 and 2004 that took 23 lives; and the Oct. 1 suicide attacks on Bali that caused 20 more deaths.

The Malaysian terror suspect, in his 40s, has eluded capture for years, several times escaping hours before police arrived at his hideout.

Alam told The Associated Press it was too early to comment on the terror raid.

"We're still investigating," he said.