Noordin Muhammed Top, the Malaysian jihadi believed responsible for orchestrating the twin suicide bombings at two Jakarta hotels on July 17, remains on the loose, police said Wednesday, after DNA tests identified a body of a man killed in a shootout with police as that of a hotel florist involved in the bombings.
Although some unidentified police sources tentatively identified the body of the man killed during an 18-hour siege at a farmhouse in Temenggong , Central Java as that of Noordin, tests identified it as that of a man named Ibrahim, also known as Boim, 40, who disappeared from his job at the Ritz-Carlton following the bombings of the American-operated Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott.
Police Wednesday labeled Ibrahim as a “field operator” for Noordin’s Islamist splinter group who provided inside information on the premises and helped to smuggle in the explosives, which killed seven persons.
The identification cleared up days of confusion brought on when Jakarta television stations broadcast speculation that Noordin was dead for several hours over the weekend. Police have since criticized the overheated TV coverage, which cited unnamed police sources, for being misleading.
At a Wednesday press conference in Jakarta, Brig. Gen. Eddy Saparwoko, the head of the National Police center for medical and health, confirmed that DNA tests had proven the body was Ibrahim’s after taking samples from Noordin's family in Malaysia and Ibrahim's relatives in West Java. Ibrahim “was the planner, organizer, controller and operator of the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings," said Nanan Soekarna, a national police spokesman.
A police source said earlier that Ibrahim had moved through several cities in Central Java in the wake of the bombings. His family had reported him missing after the bomb blasts, initially suspecting he might have been killed in the bombings because they were no longer able to reach his mobile phone.
The identification of Ibrahim as the dead man leaves open the question of Noordin’s whereabouts. Noordin has long been identified by intelligence circles as having been involved in a long string of bombings, giving him the kind of evil star status once accorded his onetime colleague, Hambali . Little is known of his splinter group, which, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, numbers no more than a few dozen operatives. The organization said, may consist of no more than seven or eight men who have continued to escape capture.
It is possible, the crisis group said, that the jihadi organization consists only of ad hoc cells put together for specific operations. One document found in the possession of men that Noordin brought into the plot to bomb Bali nightclubs in 2005 was called Sel Tauhid, which means small cells in Arabic. Such cells, working autonomously and difficult to penetrate, can be as effective as a larger organization like al-Qaeda.
Noordin’s ability to elude law enforcement has many Javanese believing he is a phantom protected by Indonesia’s spirit world. Police say he is just extremely careful, never using cell phones and communicating through couriers.
The bombings have cost him considerably in losses to his organization, however, including an associate named Achmady who was arrested after the bombings with 500 kg of explosives and plans to carry out a suicide attack as a follow-up. Danny Dwi Permana, 19, from Bogor, and Nana Ihwa Maulana, 28, from Pandeglang, blew themselves up in the Ritz-Carlton and Marriott bombings.
There are growing concerns that the jihadi movement is seeking to act on a vow made by three men prior to their execution for the deadly 2002 night club bombings on the island of Bali that anyone involved in the case would face death. It is believed that threat extends from the judges who handled the trials up to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Speaking to the media after the hotel bombings, Yudhoyono appeared rattled as he held up images of himself purportedly showing he was the target of a would-be assassination attempt.