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Top Indonesian Militant Believed Dead in Raid

BY Carolyn O'Hara  September 17, 2009 at 2:58 PM EDT

Indonesian policeman and wanted poster of Noordin Mohammed Top; Getty Images

The death of Malaysia-born Noordin Mohammed Top, who was suspected of involvement in terror attacks in Indonesia dating back to 2002 that have killed nearly 300 people, would be a key setback for terror networks in Southeast Asia.

“It’s a huge blow for the extremist organizations in Indonesia and the region,” Sidney Jones, an expert on Islamic militants with the International Crisis Group, told Reuters.

“It’s a major success for the police but it doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that the problem of terrorism is over. It’s still unclear how many people were in Noordin’s group and there are a number of fugitives still at large who have at least the potential to replace him as the leader of an al-Qaida-like organization.”

Top was a key figure in Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant terror network based in Southeast Asia linked to al-Qaida and other terror groups. In addition to the deadly hotel attacks in July, Jemaah Islamiyah is believed to be responsible for several attacks on U.S. and Western targets in Indonesia, including the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy, a 2003 car bombing at the Marriott hotel in Jakarta, and the 2002 Bali bombing, which killed more than 200 people.

Indonesia’s national police chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri announced Top’s death at a news conference Thursday. He displayed photos purporting to show a match between Top’s fingerprints and those on police file as evidence that the militant had been killed in a police raid that also killed at least four other people.

Top was reportedly a key recruiter, strategist and financier for Jemaah Islamiyah and has eluded capture on several occasions. Indonesia authorities were determined to capture or kill him ahead of a planned visit by U.S. President Barack Obama in November.

“With the death of Noordin Mohammad Top and of Doctor Azahari [a bomb maker and close ally of Top who was killed by police in 2005], I believe we could reduce the seriousness of the terror threat to Indonesia,” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters Thursday.