JAKARTA, Indonesia - Southeast Asia’s most wanted Muslim militant is said to be a masterful bombmaker and aspiring regional commander for Al Qaeda who has eluded capture for nearly a decade.
Noordin Mohammad Top, a Malaysian classified by the US State Department as a terrorism financier since the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, is believed to have struck again last week when twin suicide blasts killed seven at the Ritz-Carlton and J.W. Marriott hotels in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, at least four of them foreigners.
“Noordin is a smart and cunning terrorist,’’ Brigadier Surya Dharma, former head of the Detachment 88 antiterrorism unit, told the Associated Press. “He wants to show that he deserves to be the commander of Al Qaeda here in Southeast Asia.’’
Noordin’s radical ideas took form in the early 1990s at a Malaysian boarding school run by an Indonesian Muslim cleric named Abdullah Sungkar, said Sidney Jones, a terrorism specialist. Noordin later joined the Southeast Asian terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah in 1998, after brief training in the southern Philippines.
He fled to the Indonesian province of Riau in 2002 amid a crackdown on Muslim extremists in Malaysia after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, before rising to prominence in the Bali bombings.
Prosecutors say that Noordin orchestrated attacks in Indonesia four years in a row with Al Qaeda’s support, including the 2002 bombings on the resort island of Bali, the first J.W. Marriott Hotel attack in 2003, the Australian Embassy blast in 2004, and the 2005 triple suicide bombings on restaurants in Bali.
Together, they killed more than 240 people, many of them Western tourists. Police have widely distributed his photo and offer a $100,000 reward for information that leads to his capture, yet Noordin has slipped across borders undetected.
The closest authorities have ever come to seizing him was probably in July 2008, in a raid on Sumatra that netted 10 militant suspects.
“Noordin has shown a talent for escape,’’ said Jones, a senior adviser to the International Crisis Group think tank. “He has narrowly avoided arrest about six times and remains the target of what may be the biggest manhunt in Indonesian history.’’
In 2005, police shot and killed Azhari Husin, a close friend and technical operative of Noordin’s, which prompted a video threat to the West by a masked man believed to be Noordin.