JAKARTA, Indonesia – Police are investigating an Internet message purportedly posted on behalf of a top Southeast Asian terror suspect claiming responsibility for the hotel bombings in Indonesia's capital nearly two weeks ago, an official said Wednesday.
The message, issued in the name of Noordin Mohammed Top, says the Jakarta homicide bombings were carried out by a splinter faction of the al-Qaida-linked regional militant group Jemaah Islamiyah. It says the attacks, which killed seven people and wounded more than 50, targeted the American business community.
Written in Arabic and Indonesian, the message was posted Sunday on a previously unknown Web site. An expert on regional terrorism said the language resembles previous claims by Muslim extremist groups and may be authentic.
Police spokesman Sulityo Ishak said the message is part of their inquiries into the blasts at the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels on July 17, which broke a four-year lull in terror attacks in the world's most populous Muslim nation. However, Ishak said it was too early to say if it was genuine or could help in tracking down the culprits.
Noordin is already accused of planning four previous attacks in Indonesia that killed more than 240 people. His group claimed responsibility for just one of those strikes — triple homicide bombings in Bali in 2005 — in a similar note.
"It is entirely plausible that the statement could have originated from Noordin Top, but we can't really know for sure," said Jim Della-Giacoma, Southeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group think tank. "It is interesting that the statement mentions the names of two late close associates of Noordin, both of whom were killed by police."
The note says the twin bombings were carried out in honor of Azahari bin Husin, a top Jemaah Islamiyah bomb maker who was fatally shot by counterterrorism forces in November 2005, and Sariyah Jabir, another explosives expert who was killed in April 2006 during a raid on a militant hide-out in central Java.
The men are believed to have played crucial roles in Bali bombings in 2002 and 2005, a previous attack on the J.W. Marriott in 2003 and an explosion at the Australian Embassy in 2004.
The message accuses the American business community of stealing Indonesia's vast natural resources to fight Islam, and says the bombings were "done by a holy warrior brother against the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry" at the hotels.
Among victims of the Jakarta bombings were more than a dozen prominent business executives from Western corporations who were attending a weekly breakfast in the J.W. Marriott lounge when the blasts happened. The attacks killed six foreigners, including three Australians. At least six Americans were wounded.
The note is purportedly signed by Noordin, identified as the "leader of the Tandzim al-Qaida Indonesia," his violent breakaway faction of Jemaah Islamiyah.
Jemaah Islamiyah splinter groups are considered the most likely perpetrators of the hotel attacks. An unexploded bomb recovered from the scene resembled devices used by the group before and documents seized from members indicated they intended to hit prominent Western targets.
No suspects have been formally named by police, but thousands of Noordin posters have been distributed to the public. He is believed to have escaped capture at least a half dozen times over the past seven years.
Earlier Wednesday, the hotels reopened for guests amid tightened security that included searches of luggage. The blasts had blown out windows and caused serious damage to the hotels' ground floors, but the structures remained intact.
A huge police operation has rounded up a number of suspected Noordin supporters, including a woman who is believed to be one of his wives, but the search is ongoing for the main perpetrators. Among those police are looking for is a man who did flower arrangements for both hotels. He resigned the morning of the blasts and hasn't been seen since.