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Police Say Slain Fugitive Did Not Blow Himself Up

Indonesia is trying to determine whether gunfire from officers or explosives set off by an accomplice killed bomb maker Azahari Husin.

November 11, 2005|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Azahari Husin, one of Southeast Asia's most notorious terrorists, ended life like most of his victims: amid the debris and devastation of a suicide bombing.

Azahari, the target of a three-year manhunt in Indonesia, was finally trapped by police in a house in East Java. As police closed in, he reached for the detonator on the explosives belt he was wearing but was stopped from blowing himself up when an officer shot him in the chest and legs.

Moments later, Azahari's accomplice, Arman, detonated his own suicide belt, blowing himself to pieces, knocking the roof off the house and tearing Azahari in two.

"The condition of Azahari's corpse is that it was severed around the legs and torso," Gen. Sutanto, the national police chief, told reporters Thursday. "He was not able to reach the button because officers shot him first, but the other one was able to commit a suicide bombing."

Initial reports had incorrectly said that Azahari blew himself up.

Azahari's death Wednesday in the city of Batu brought to an end the career of a ruthless technician who specialized in making bombs that have killed 250 people over the last five years, many of them Australian tourists. Known as the "Demolition Man," Azahari also trained other militants to make bombs.

The death of one of the top operatives of Jemaah Islamiah, a Southeast Asian militant network, won praise from Indonesian officials and Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who called it "good news."

But some experts warned that the Islamic group, which has close ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist network, still had the technical skill and operational ability to mount attacks in the region.

Police continued to search for Noordin Mohammed Top, a Malaysian who collaborated closely with Azahari in staging major terrorist attacks in Indonesia, including the Bali nightclub bombings in 2002 that killed 202 people and the restaurant bombings there last month that killed 23. Five suicide bombers were among those who died in the two attacks.

While Azahari was known for his technical skill, Top was the one who set the agenda and enlisted followers willing to give their lives for militant Islam.

"Of the two, Top was hands down the leader," said Ken Conboy, a security consultant who recently wrote "The Second Front," a book about Jemaah Islamiah. "Azahari was the loyal follower and tactician who knew how to put together the bomb. Top is the more dangerous of the two because he is the one who recruits people."

Azahari was an academic who studied in Australia and earned a PhD in land management from Reading University in Britain. But he dedicated himself to militant Islam after his wife was diagnosed with throat cancer, Conboy said. Azahari fled Malaysia for Indonesia in 2001 after his homeland began cracking down on extremists.

His skill as a terrorist was derived from his meticulous nature. He made intricate circuit boards to detonate his bombs, Conboy said. He searched the Internet for ways to make his bombs more powerful by using ordinary materials such as soap and fuel oil, investigators have said.

Most of Jemaah Islamiah's leaders have been arrested since the 2002 Bali bombing, but Azahari and Top managed to evade capture. They moved from house to house every few months, sometimes using disguises to elude police as Top continued to recruit new followers. Neighbors invariably described the two and their associates as quiet and considerate.

At times, Top and Azahari traveled together; they were apart on Wednesday.

Police, who had been stymied for weeks in their investigation of the Oct. 1 restaurant bombings in Bali, apparently got their first break about 10 days ago when they learned the identities of two of the three suicide bombers.

That put them on Azahari's trail. On Wednesday morning, they arrested one of his associates in the central Java city of Semarang. Identified only by the initials C.H., he was in possession of a bomb, Gen. Sutanto said. The suspect confessed to police that he knew the location of the house in Batu where Azahari was hiding.

"He is the one who was assigned by Dr. Azahari to find a rented house," said police spokesman Aryanto Budiarjo. "C.H. was being trained by Dr. Azahari to assemble bombs. It was his indication that Dr. Azahari was in the house."

Police, including members of the U.S.-trained anti-terrorism unit known as Detachment 88, surrounded the house. The two men inside were armed with more than 40 bombs, police said, and detonated some of them in an unsuccessful effort to kill officers.

After Arman detonated the suicide bomb, police initially thought there had been three men in the house. But they subsequently identified only two, Azahari and Arman. Azahari's identity was verified by checking his fingerprints. Medical examiners were attempting to determine whether his death was caused by a bullet or the bomb.

In Australia, Azahari's demise was welcomed by some survivors of the 2002 Bali bombings. Erik de Haart, who was outside the nightclubs when the bombs went off, lost six friends in the blasts.

"There's a relief, and elation that finally someone has paid a price, that may be a fair price, for what happened in October 2002," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

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