Tue, May 20, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Bali suspect fled country: report

‘MIXED BLESSING’ A member of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant network told police an Algerian who helped him escape Indonesia said that Noordin Top had fled the country

AP , JAKARTA

Southeast Asia’s most wanted terror suspect, Noordin Top, may have evaded a massive manhunt and fled Indonesia, police documents obtained by reporters said.

A militant who was arrested and extradited to Indonesia told police that an Algerian who helped him escape from the country also said that Top had managed to flee, the police interrogation documents said.

A senior anti-terror officer said yesterday that police were still “crosschecking” the information with other sources. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the nature of his job.

Top is accused of directing the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings and three other attacks on Western targets in Indonesia that have together killed more than 240 people, most of them foreign tourists.

If confirmed, Top’s escape would be a blow to Indonesia, which has been praised for its successes in the fight against terrorism.

It would also raise worrying questions about Top’s current location and future plans.

Top, a Malaysian national, has been on the run since 2002. Police have arrested several of his aides or couriers and often claimed to be close to catching him, but over the last 18 months the trail has apparently gone cold.

The claim that he has fled is contained in police investigation reports into two senior Indonesian members of the Jemaah Islamiyah militant network who fled the country on a mission to link up with terrorist groups in the Middle East. They were arrested en route in Malaysia and extradited to Indonesia in late March.

Abu Husna and Agus Purwantoro told investigators an Algerian contact in Jakarta helped them obtain airplane tickets and fake passports and gave them contacts in Syria, the investigation reports said.

While discussing Abu Husna’s planned journey, the Algerian is quoted as saying: “Do you know that Noordin Top has escaped?”

Husna says he did not and asks Jafar how he knew this. Jafar replies that it is a secret.

Sidney Jones, a researcher for the International Crisis Group and a leading international authority on militants in Southeast Asia, said it was “plausible” that Top had managed to escape.

“If it is true, it’s a mixed blessing for Indonesia,” she said. “It would mean he was no longer around to recruit young Indonesians for possible attacks, but it would also mean someone with intimate knowledge of Southeast Asia was plugged back into the international jihadi network that could bring fresh attention to the region.”

Noordin Top is believed to head a breakaway faction of Jemaah Islamiyah committed to al-Qaeda style attacks on Western, civilian targets. In a video seized from a safehouse in 2005, he is shown pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda and vowing more attacks to avenge Muslim deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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