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Arrested Indonesian terror suspects planned new attacks
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A group of Indonesian terror suspects arrested with a huge cache of weapons were planning a series of attacks on churches and shopping malls across the world's most populous Muslim nation, police said Saturday.
The capture of the nine men underlined the threat Islamic militants still pose in Indonesia despite the arrests of scores of suspects since last year's Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.
One of those arrested, identified only as Ihwanudin, allegedly committed suicide in police custody after seizing a weapon from his interrogators.
He was detained Friday in a rented house just 200 yards from a private residence of Indonesia's President Mega-wati Sukarnoputri.
Officers found an automatic rifle and nearly 2,000 bullets in his kitchen, raising fears that he was targeting the president.
On Friday, police announced the arrests of three men in Jakarta and four in Semarang in Central Java, between July 4 and July 11. Police confirmed Saturday that another two had been arrested, one in Jakarta and another in Magelang, Central Java.
All the men are suspected members of the al-Qaida linked Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, which has been blamed for the Bali attacks, a string of church bombings and an attempt to kill Megawati in 2001.
Police also raided a bomb-making factory in Semarang and seized four boxes of TNT, 25 sacks of potassium chlorate -- the chemical used in the Bali blasts -- and 1,200 detonators.
"These are powerful stuff," Aritonang said. "We think they were targeting places of worships and shopping malls. If the chemicals were used all at once, they could be planning bombings more devastating than the Bali attacks."
Aritonang said the men were also planning to assassinate "top public figures" in Indonesia, but declined to give more details.
Since the Bali bombings, most foreign governments have warned their nationals not to travel to Indonesia, citing the risk of more terror attacks.
Indonesia was widely criticized for ignoring warnings that al-Qaida linked terrorists were targeting the country in the months before the Bali bombings, which were the bloodiest terror strikes since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Ihwanudin's neighbors on Saturday described him as a quiet, religious man who arrived in the street four months ago. He told them he was a bookseller.
"My knees were shaking when I saw a handcuffed Ihwanudin show policemen the guns and bullets," said a neighbor, who identified herself only as Yuli.
More than 35 Islamic militants have been arrested over the Bali bombings, and the trials of several key suspects are already underway on the tourist island.
Many of the accused have admitted being members of Jemaah Islamiyah, which intelligence officials say has cells throughout Southeast Asia. The group's aim is to use terrorism to establish an Islamic state across Muslim parts of Southeast Asia.