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Indonesian Police Hunt for Elusive 'Demolition Man'

Malaysian Azahari Husin, believed to be the bomb maker behind the Bali attacks, is said to have eluded capture at least five times.

October 06, 2005|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

KUTA, Indonesia — Minutes after a car bomb exploded outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta last year, the Malaysian militant known as the "Demolition Man" was stopped by a traffic police officer.

Azahari Husin, the master bomb maker who is suspected of having helped carry out the last five major bombings in Indonesia, was speeding on a motorcycle from the scene of the blast, which killed 10 people and a suicide bomber. The officer did not recognize Azahari, one of Indonesia's most-wanted men, who paid a small bribe to avoid a ticket and continued on his way.

It was one of at least five times that Azahari slipped through the fingers of the Indonesian police, said Sidney Jones, a leading terrorism expert in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, and an analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

Now, after the triple suicide attacks on Bali restaurants Saturday that killed 19 people and the three bombers, police are frantically searching for Azahari and his confederate, Noordin Mohammed Top, both leading members of Jemaah Islamiah, a Muslim extremist group.

Although police have uncovered little physical evidence linking Azahari and Top to the bombings, the attacks are so similar to others that they are the prime suspects.

"We know they are still at large and committed to undertaking these bombings," Jones said. "If you have an explosion that involves suicide bombers, you have to put them high on your list."

In a speech Wednesday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia's inability to halt the bombings was harming its international standing and called on the military to take a greater role in preventing attacks.

"The terrorist acts have spoiled Indonesia's reputation in the eyes of the world," the retired general said in an address marking the 60th anniversary of the armed forces' founding.

Authorities believe that Azahari and Top helped organize the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people, the 2003 JW Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta that killed 12 and the Australian Embassy bombing in September 2004. Like Saturday's restaurant bombings, all were suicide attacks.

Azahari, who has a doctorate from the University of Reading in Britain, is believed to have overseen the manufacture of the bombs. Top, said to be a charismatic recruiter, is believed to have helped organize financing and line up the suicide bombers.

Azahari also is suspected of participating in church bombings across Indonesia on Christmas Eve 2000 that killed 19.

Police have arrested 250 people on suspicion of participating in the bombings, including much of Jemaah Islamiah's original leadership.

Jones said she believed the group had split into two factions: one that believes in organizing the Islamic movement for a generation before engaging in violence, and Top and Azahari's militant wing that believes the time for violence is now.

The militant faction is closely allied with the Banten Group, named after a district in Java, whose members have participated in several of the bombings.

"We are dealing with teams put together by personal connections," Jones said, "not necessarily organizational networks."

Police, who released photos of the three suspected suicide bombers in Saturday's attack in the hope people would come forward and identify them, said they had received a call from a man who identified one of the bombers as Gareng from the city of Solo in central Java.

Investigators have also shown the photos to Jemaah Islamiah members convicted in earlier attacks but none acknowledged knowing the men, suggesting that they were recent recruits.

Among those shown the photos were Amrozi Nurhasyim and Imam Samudra, who were sentenced to death for their part in the Bali nightclub bombings.

"We are asking them whether they recognize these people or not," said Bali Police Chief I Made Mangku Pastika. "So far the detained terrorists do not know them."

Police say searches of the crime scenes have yielded shredded backpacks and clothing, ball bearings intended to make the bombs more deadly, wire, pieces of detonator and parts of a plastic food container apparently used to hold explosives.

They also have recovered a 9-volt battery from each scene, which is said to be a trademark of Azahari's bombs.

Ali Imron, a former Jemaah Islamiah member who is serving a life sentence but is cooperating with police, collaborated with Azahari in 2002 and believes the Malaysian is behind the restaurant bombings.

"I heard that they found a 9-volt battery at the crime scene," Imron told the Jawa Pos, an Indonesian newspaper. "If that's true, then my prediction is true. A 9-volt battery is Azahari's characteristic."

Imron said Azahari may have been at one of the restaurants because he always waited to watch his bombs explode.

Azahari and Top have eluded police for years, moving from place to place, allegedly recruiting followers and making bombs.

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