SOLO, Indonesia – Noordin Muhammed Top, a militant mastermind who eluded capture for seven years and terrorized Indonesia with a string of deadly Al Qaeda-funded bombings, was killed during a raid Thursday, the Indonesian police chief said.
Police hunting for suspects in bombings of two luxury Jakarta hotels raided a hide-out in central Indonesia, sparking an hours-long gunfight that ended at dawn with an explosion. Four suspected militants died, including Noordin, national police Chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri said. Three suspects also were captured.
The operation left behind a charred house with no roof and blown-out walls. Noordin's remains were found inside the house on the outskirts of the town of Solo in central Java, the main Indonesian island, Danuri said.
Fingerprints of Noordin's obtained from authorities in his native Malaysia and stored on a police database matched those of the body, Danuri said. DNA tests have not yet been conducted. The bodies were flown to Jakarta for autopsies.
"It is Noordin M. Top," Danuri told a nationally televised news conference to loud cheers from the audience of reporters, photographers and TV crews. Documents and laptop computers confiscated from the house prove that Noordin "is the leader of Al Qaeda in Southeast Asia," he said.
Hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of explosives, M-16 assault rifles, grenades and bombs were removed from the house as ambulances shuttled away the dead and injured.
"We asked Noordin M. Top to surrender, but they kept firing," Danuri said. "That is how he died. ... He even had bullets in his pockets."
Noordin fled to Indonesia in 2002 amid a crackdown on Muslim extremists in Malaysia in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. He is accused of heading a splinter group of the Al Qaeda-funded regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah and has been implicated in every major attack in Indonesia since 2002, including two separate bombings on the resort island of Bali that together killed 222 people, mostly foreigners.
He has also been blamed for a pair of suicide bombings at Jakarta's J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in July, an earlier attack on the Marriott in 2003 and a bombing at the Australian Embassy in 2004.
"The most dangerous terrorist in Southeast Asia has been put out of commission," said Jim Della-Giacoma, Southeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group think tank.
"It would have been better if police had managed to arrest him alive, but it appears that this was not an option," he said. "Unfortunately, Noordin's death does not mean an end to terrorism in Indonesia, though it has been dealt a significant blow."
In the Philippines, where authorities are fighting an Islamist insurgency in the south, Noordin's death was welcomed by authorities as a sign that terrorists cannot hide from the law forever.
"It's a major accomplishment, it's a big blow to their leadership, to their capability to train new bombers," said Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino, who leads assaults against Al Qaeda-linked militants. "There are gains being made in the anti-terrorism campaign in the region."
A spokesman for Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he was aware of reports of Noordin's death. "We are awaiting official confirmation from the Indonesian government," he said. Dozens of Australians were killed in the 2002 bombing of Bali nightclubs.
An Indonesian counterterrorism official said the militants killed Thursday included alleged bomb-maker Bagus Budi Pranato. The captured militants included a pregnant woman who is being treated at a hospital, national police spokesman Nanan Sukarna said. She was in stable condition.