Fugitive terrorist a suspect in Indonesia hotel bombings

Sunday, July 19, 2009
A worker sweeps at the site of a bomb blast Saturday at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. Investigators worked Saturday to identify a pair of suicide bombers who attacked two American luxury hotels in Indonesia's capital, and health officials confirmed at least four of the dead were foreigners. (Dita Alangkara ~ Associated Press)

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The mangled faces of two suspected suicide attackers may be the main clue linking the bombings of two luxury American hotels in the Indonesian capital with a notorious al-Qaida-linked militant network that has struck many times before.

Investigators worked with medical teams Saturday to reconstruct the remains of the culprits believed to have set off explosions that tore through the restaurants of the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton at breakfast time the day before. Seven were killed, plus the two suspected attackers, and 50 wounded, many of them foreigners.

The method, target and type of bombs used in Friday's attacks immediately raised suspicions of involvement by the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group and Noordin M. Top, the fugitive Malaysian national who heads a particularly violent offshoot of the network.

While National Police spokesman Maj. Gen. Nanan Soekarna said they "cannot say for sure whether Noordin M. Top led this bombing," others were more certain.

"I'm 200 percent sure this was his work," said Nasir Abbas, a former Jemaah Islamiyah leader turned police informant who has worked with police on investigations into Indonesia's last three terrorist attacks.

A police investigator said Saturday that Noordin was the most likely suspect.

"Considering the target, the location and content of the bombs, it was clearly the work of Noordin," the investigator said, declining to give his name because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

The investigator said a hotel receptionist told police that one of the suspected bombers who checked into the hotel days before gave his name as "Nurdin." He gave a $1,000 cash deposit because he had no credit card, he said.

Noordin, an engineer and alleged bomb-maker, is accused of masterminding four major strikes in Indonesia with the help of al-Qaida that killed more than 240 people, including the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, a strike on the J.W. Marriott in 2003, and a huge blast at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in 2004 when a ton of explosives was hidden in a delivery van.

Police said they were also following leads in the Cilacap region of Central Java, where explosives were reportedly found buried in a garden last week at the house of Noordin's father-in-law, who is also at large.

"We can't say for certain which network is involved in this bombing," Soekarna said. "There are similarities with the bombs found in Cilacap and Bali."

Sidney Jones, a Southeast Asian terrorism analyst for the International Crisis Group, believes it "is clear that there is a direct link with Noordin through [his father-in-law], and clearly Noordin was staying in Cilacap at that time."

"I think Noordin will remain a threat until he is captured," she told Indonesian television channel MetroTV.

Investigators have been examining body parts and other forensic evidence from Friday's attacks in an attempt to identify the two suspected bombers, one of whom is believed to be Indonesian.

Their bodies were badly damaged in the explosions -- they were decapitated by the force -- and confirming their identity could help determine if they knew Noordin.

Authorities say the bombers posed as guests before setting off the pair of blasts. They say the attackers evaded hotel security, smuggling explosives into the Marriott two days ahead of time and apparently assembled the bombs on the 18th floor, where an undetonated device was found after the explosions.

Police on Saturday confirmed the death of a third Australian -- bringing the number of confirmed foreign fatalities to at least four -- and said their earlier toll of nine had included the two bombers.

The attack occurred as the Marriott was hosting a regular meeting of top foreign executives of major companies in Indonesia organized by the consultancy firm CastleAsia, said the group, which is headed by an American.

Officials have identified five of the dead -- the three from Australia, one from New Zealand and one from Indonesia. The Health Ministry initially reported the death of a Singaporean, but police said they were unable to confirm that.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Saturday after meeting with his Indonesian counterpart that the dead included Trade Commission officer Craig Senger.

"The hearts of our nation go out to those families," he said.

Officials said 16 foreigners were among the wounded, including eight Americans and citizens of Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and Britain.

The blasts at the high-rise hotels, located side-by-side in an upscale business district in Jakarta, blew out windows and scattered debris and glass across the street, clouding the structures in thick smoke.

Security videos captured the moment of the explosion in the Marriott. The brief, grainy images show a man wearing a cap and pulling a bag on wheels walking across the lobby toward the restaurant, followed by a flash and smoke filling the air.

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