Revival of village guest books to aid terrorist hunt

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 August, 2006, 12:00am

In the hunt for Malaysian-born terrorist Noordin Mohammed Top, Indonesian police are taking a back-to-basics approach by asking hundreds of village chiefs in Central and East Java provinces to revive the old practice of the 'passers-by book', or the village guest book.

Inspector General Dody Sumantyawan, head of Central Java Police Department, said the book could be a useful tool in the fight against terrorism.

'We ask the village heads to record as much detail as possible of people entering the province and to contact the police if suspicions arise,' he told the Koran Tempo. 'The information would make it easier to detect Noordin.'

The passers-by book is a tradition which is followed in some parts of the 17,000 island archipelago, but was widespread during the 30-year-rule of Suharto, who used the custom to monitor people's movements. After the regime collapsed in 1998, it fell into decline.

The police request follows another failed operation to catch Noordin, carried out by a 120-strong police and army contingent in the area around Mount Welirang, East Java, earlier this month.

The search had been prompted by locals' reports of six unknown men with long beards and moustaches, one of whom resembled Noordin. It was said the men were behaving suspiciously and stole food from villagers. Indonesian police have been close to catching one of Asia's most wanted men before. Last November, a raid on a Central Java village missed him by a few hours. Bombs and bomb-making equipment were recovered after a shoot-out that left his Jemaah Islamiah partner Azahari bin Husin dead and two of Noordin's aides behind bars.

In January, Noordin announced the establishment of a new group, known as Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad, which is the original name of Al-Qaeda. Experts are still divided on whether it represents a separate entity from Jemaah Islamiah or its most radical core.