BATU, Indonesia – Police found more than 30 bombs in the hide-out of a Southeast Asia terror ringleader shot to death during a raid by an elite security unit, triggering speculation he was planning more attacks, authorities said Thursday.
Known as the "Demolition Man" for his expertise with explosives, Azahari bin Husin was a key figure in Jemaah Islamiyah, a terror network with links to al-Qaida that has been blamed for a series of deadly bombings as well as failed plots in Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.
The discovery of the bombs indicated Jemaah Islamiyah was preparing more attacks.
The bombs included small devices easily contained in backpacks — similar to ones used in the July London Underground attacks and in last month's suicide strikes on three crowded restaurants on the resort island of Bali, said police chief Gen. Sutanto.
Worried that more attacks may be planned, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered police to hunt down other terrorists, including Azahari's right-hand man — Noordin Mohamed Top, who is believed to raise funds for Jemaah Islamiyah and recruit its bombers.
Police initially said Azahari blew himself up Wednesday to avoid capture when his hide-out in east Java province was raided, but Sutanto said Thursday he was shot as he reached to detonate his suicide belt. Another militant set off the device, sparking a massive explosion that ripped off the roof of their rented house.
Authorities identified Azahari after a fingerprint analysis. The corpses of two other suspected militants were also removed from the house.
Sutanto, who uses only one name like many Indonesians, told reporters that Azahari realized he was trapped when members of the U.S.-trained anti-terrorism unit moved in on the house Wednesday, backed by snipers stationed on nearby rooftops.
Azahari 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 bomb expert, in his 40s, had eluded capture for years, but Indonesian authorities finally tracked him down in Batu, a sleepy resort town about 530 miles east of the capital of Jakarta, after interrogating an arrested militant suspect.
Police said they started surveillance 10 days ago.
Residents said they never saw anyone at the house who resembled the widely publicized police photos of Azahari, although many people were seen entering and leaving, usually at night.
Neighbor Anil Wardan said two of the inhabitants claimed they were contractors. They were friendly and took part in celebrations to mark the end the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan last week, he said.
"There was nothing unusual or suspicious about them," he said, although other residents noted that the house's windows and doors were always shut.
Ken Conboy, a Jakarta security analyst, said in a new book about Jemaah Islamiyah that Azahari's embrace of Islam quickly became fanatical in 1998 after his wife was diagnosed with throat cancer. Before that, he had never outwardly shown much piety, Conboy wrote in "The Second Front."
The former academic and businessman quickly rose through the ranks of Jemaah Islamiyah and was sent for training to an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan in 1999, the book says.
Azahari moved between Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia in the years that followed.
Jemaah Islamiyah, which wants to establish an Islamic state spanning Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the southern Philippines, has been weakened by a regional crackdown in recent years.
But analysts said Azahari, who had studied engineering in Australia and received a doctoral degree in Britain, was a key leader in rebuilding the group and that his bomb-making skills made him invaluable.