Noordin's death will be a big blow against terror

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 August, 2009, 12:00am

So elusive is Asia's most wanted terrorist that some mystical Javanese believe he is protected by magical powers or charms. It will take more than government confirmation to convince them that Noordin Mohamed Top is dead. But some senior police officers believe he is among those who died during raids on his violent extremist cell in central Java, and a swathe of the local media is convinced too.

If true, it is a powerful blow against terrorism in the region that could reduce the threat of more bomb attacks. The terrorists will miss Noordin's planning, financial and motivational role. Counterterrorism forces stepped up the hunt for Malaysian-born Noordin after last month's suicide-bomb attacks on two American-owned luxury hotels in Jakarta, which bore his signature. He is regarded by security experts as the brains behind a series of bomb atrocities in Indonesia, beginning with the Bali nightclub blasts in 2002 that killed 202 people, including 11 from Hong Kong.

There is nothing magical about the practical discipline of his personal security measures, such as never using mobile phones and trusting only family and his closest sympathisers to contact other cell members. Noordin split with the militant group Jemaah Islamiah in 2003, the year he planned the bomb attack on the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta; he followed that with another on the Australian embassy in Jakarta. But he was still idolised by younger, more radical JI members and was persuasive in recruiting them as suicide bombers.

If Noordin is out of the picture, there are likely to be others who would be willing to step in and take over his organisation. But it will be a chance for the security authorities to stop the re-emergence of violent jihadism. Last month's twin hotel attacks shattered four years of relative peace during which Indonesia achieved political stability and strong economic growth. They followed the re-election of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono by a landslide after a largely peaceful campaign. The president, a former army general, has been a leading player in the campaign to curb JI. This must continue, even as he presses on with social and economic reforms to consolidate democracy - the best defence against extremism.