BEJI, Indonesia – Southeast Asia's most wanted terror suspect was reportedly killed during a 16-hour siege on a suspected militant hide-out that ended Saturday when police stormed the house, but officials said they could not yet confirm he was among the dead.
Local TV stations reported militant chief Noordin Mohammad Top, who is blamed for last month's attacks on two American hotels in the capital, Jakarta, as well as bombings on the resort island of Bali, was killed in the bathroom of the house in a rice-growing village in central Java province following a lengthy bomb and gun battle.
The body of a man believed to be Noordin was flown to Jakarta for an autopsy, but police "cannot yet confirm that this is Noordin Top," national police chief Bambang Hendarso Damuri said.
Police don't want to say that Noordin is assumed dead and any announcement will have to wait until next week after a DNA examination is complete, Hendarso said at nationally televised news conference.
The suicide attacks on the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta killed seven people, all but one of them foreigners, and ended a four-year pause in terror strikes in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation.
Noordin is also believed to have played a major role in four other bombings in Indonesia since 2002, including nightclub attacks on the resort island of Bali that year that killed 202 people, mostly foreigners.
He later emerged as a regional terrorist leader and skilled bomb maker who has been accused of masterminding a series of suicide attacks — including the triple Bali bombings in 2005 — that killed dozens of people.
Noordin is a Malaysian citizen who claimed in a video in 2005 to be al-Qaida's representative in Southeast Asia and to be carrying out attacks on Western civilians to avenge Muslim deaths in Afghanistan.
Killing or capturing him would be a major victory in Indonesia's fight against militants and could significantly weaken the chances of more attacks, given the key planning, financial and motivational role he is believed to have played in terror networks.
Police spokesman Nanan Sukarna said officers believed Noordin, who is Southeast Asia's most wanted militant suspect, and two or three of his followers were inside the raided home, but could not immediately confirm their fate.
Minutes after the raid, witnesses said officers outside the house took off their helmets and were shaking hands with each other, suggesting all those inside had either been killed or captured. The firing ceased.
A police officer at the scene said a body was found in the bathroom of the house and authorities brought a coffin there. After about one hour, three ambulances left the home.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters he had been briefed about an ongoing operation "to uphold law and to eradicate terrorism," but made no mention of Noordin. Still, he praised police.
"I extend my highest gratitude and respect to the police for their brilliant achievement in this operation," he said.
Earlier Saturday, officers raided a second house close to Jakarta where they shot and killed two suspected militants and seized bombs and a car rigged to carry them, said Police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri.
Danuri said one of those arrested had reserved a room in one of the hotels that was used by the terrorists before they attacked.
The house was about three miles (five kilometers) from the residence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The Detik.com Web site, quoting an unnamed police source, said officers believed they were planning to attack Yudhoyono's house.
Officers circled the house in central Java province late Friday afternoon after making arrests in a nearby town. At one point, they sent remote-controlled robots into the isolated building to search for bombs.
Not long before they stormed the red-tiled building, officers dressed in black behind a shield fired into the house from close range, while others fired repeated volleys from a hill behind it.
Indonesian police have been met with booby traps and suicide bombers in at least one other raid on a terrorist hide-out and approached the house with extreme caution.
Indonesian police have arrested more than 200 militants associated with the Jemaah Islamiyah terror network since 2002, including many with ties to Noordin, who they say has narrowly escaped capture several times.
Police have offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to his capture. Experts say Noordin was likely being hidden by a small network of sympathizers who might not agree with his tactics, but nevertheless believe they have a duty to shelter him.
Java, home to more than half of Indonesia's 235 million people, has long been the focus in the hunt for Noordin and his associates.
In November 2005, Azahari bin Husin, a top Jemaah Islamiyah bomb maker, was fatally shot by counterterrorism forces in east Java. Sariyah Jabir, another explosives expert, was killed in April 2006 during a raid on a militant hide-out in central Java.
Prosecutors say Noordin also orchestrated an earlier attack on the J.W. Marriott Hotel in 2003 and a blast outside the Australian Embassy in 2004, both in the Indonesian capital. Al-Qaida is believed to have helped fund several of the attacks.
Together the bombings allegedly linked to Noordin killed more than 240 people, many of them Western tourists.