Thu, Nov 13, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Terrorists plan attacks in Indonesia


Two of Asia's most wanted terrorists are armed with explosives and planning fresh attacks on Western hotels and banks -- possibly disguising themselves as beggars and receiving shelter from fellow radicals, officials said.

Malaysians Azahari bin Husin and Noordin Mohammed Top -- both alleged leaders of the al-Qaeda-linked Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and believed to have been key players in last year's Bali bombings that killed 202 people -- are the target of a massive manhunt following their narrow escape from a police dragnet in the West Javanese city of Bandung on Oct. 31.

Six unexploded bombs were discovered in the rented house they left behind, and police say they are each carrying several pounds of explosives. Their escape has raised questions about the police force's anti-terror capabilities.

Police have set up road blocks and distributed the suspects' mugshots to mosques and boarding houses in West Java and the island of Sumatra, two regions where they are believed most likely to be hiding.

Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have heightened security along their borders in hopes of nabbing Azahari, a British-trained engineer and a former university lecturer who police say now uses his expertise to assemble bombs, and Noordin, another university graduate and top bomb maker.

"Authorities believe the duo are bent on carrying out more bombings and were identifying suitable targets before police closed in on them," a senior Malaysian official said. "There is still enough infrastructure and logistic support for the JI to carry out more attacks in Indonesia,'' he said.

The two men are believed to have been key players in the Bali bombings on Oct. 12 last year. Authorities say they've narrowly escaped capture at least three times since then.

They've used various aliases, stayed in boarding houses and repeatedly changed their clothes to portray themselves as beggars, academics, Muslim clerics or travelers heading home for the holy month of Ramadan, authorities say.

"Why they escaped is not a great mystery. The basic problem is that police don't know what they look like" because of their disguises, said Ansyaad Mbai, who heads the counterterrorism desk at the Ministry of Political and Security Affairs.

"What is of great concern is that they escaped and are carrying bombs," he said.

Based on interrogations with other suspects, police said the two were planning to bomb a US-owned Citibank in Bandung and Western-owned hotels and residential neighborhoods popular with foreigners in Jakarta.

The bespectacled 46-year-old Azahari, who taught bomb-making classes in Afghanistan and the Philippines, is the most wanted of the two. He is believed to have assembled one of two bombs used in the Bali attack, as well as masterminding the Aug. 5 bombing of the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 people.

Noordin is also believed to have participated in both attacks.

Police thought they had finally caught up with the fugitives in a rather unlikely place -- the normally tranquil hill city of Bandung which lies about four hours outside the capital Jakarta.

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