Indonesia: Terrorism Suspect Dead

U.S. Air Force personnel load a wounded American soldier onto a cargo plane in Balad, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2005.
AP Photo/Indonesian Police
Indonesian officials are certain that top Malaysian terror suspect Azahari bin Husin blew himself up during a raid on a terrorist hideout, but forensic tests will be conducted to verify his identity, the president said Thursday.

"We are convinced it is Azahari," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters. "But we need to carry out laboratory tests."

Australia's Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said Azahari bin Husin's head remained intact after he blew himself up Wednesday and was recognized by an Indonesian officer who has been hunting him for years.

"Certainly facially he's been identified by Gen. Gorries Mere, who's been heading the terrorist tracking team for three years," Keelty told the Southern Cross radio network.

Australia welcomed Thursday the apparent death of Azahari as a crucial victory in the battle against regional terror group Jemaah Islamayah.

Azahari was accused of masterminding bombings that killed dozens of Australians in blasts on the resort island of Bali in 2002 and last month.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer noted that Azahari and fellow terror suspect Noordin Top were two of Indonesia's most wanted men.

"Noordin Top and Azahari have been the two keys to these bombings by what we broadly define as Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia, so to take either or both of them out is a very important step forward," Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

When an elite, U.S.-trained police unit moved in on Azahari's latest hideout in Malang, 530 miles east of Jakarta, with snipers stationed on rooftops nearby, he apparently realized it was his last stand, national police chief Gen. Sutanto told reporters.

Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock said Australian forensic experts would help Indonesia identify the remains.

"The formal identification process is something that the Indonesians have asked us to assist with and we will," Ruddock told Nine Network television.

Ruddock said Azahari was the mastermind behind bombings that included a suicide attack at the gates of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in September last year that killed 11 people, the 2003 J.W. Marriott hotel bombing in Jakarta that killed 12, and two attacks in Bali — this year and in 2002 — that killed more than 220 people.

"He's provided the technical expertise, the bomb-making expertise," Ruddock said.

"It is believed that others may also have some of those skills, but he is also said to be the inspirational leader who recruited people for the organization," he added.

Azahari's death would diminish Jemaah Islamiyah's capacity for terrorism — but not stop it, Ruddock said.

"One can't assume that those that are left won't still have some residual capacity to continue the sort of activities which they have been engaged in," Ruddock said.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said a breakthrough that led police to Azahari, who was educated in Australia, came 10 days earlier through the identification of a suicide bomber involved in the Oct. 1 Bali bombings that killed 23.

Australian police have working closely with Indonesian police in tracking terrorists since the first Bali bombings on Oct. 12, 2002, killed 202, including 88 Australians, and were close to the scene where Azahari apparently died, Keelty said.

"If he is confirmed as the person who has died in this operation yesterday, ... it will make a big dent in operations of the radical terrorist groups in Indonesia," Keelty told ABC in a telephone interview from Thailand.

Keelty declined to detail Australia's role in tracking terrorists in Indonesia for fear of jeopardizing their operations, saying "all of our information would point to the fact that Noordin Top is still at large."