After a 16-hour shootout and siege with Indonesian police in a farmhouse in central Java earlier this month, one man was dead. Many presumed he was the nation’s most wanted terrorist, Noordin Muhammad Top. But DNA tests have just confirmed that the slain man was not Noordin, so the manhunt continues.
Noordin is a suspected organizer of the bombings of the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels on July 17 in Jakarta that killed seven and wounded more than 50. He is also thought to be a key strategist for Jemaah Islamiah (JI), an organization that wants to drive out westerners and create a Muslim caliphate in Southeast Asia. The group, linked to al-Qaeda, has been blamed for a series of previous attacks on a Jakarta hotel, the Australian Embassy, and the 2002 and 2005 bombings of tourist areas in Bali. More than 250 people have died, mostly westerners.
Now in his 40s, Noordin is originally from Malaysia, but after a post-Sept. 11, 2001 crackdown on Islamic hard-liners, he fled and has since eluded capture at least a half-dozen times. He rarely uses cellphones, which can be traced, and has a tight group of sympathizers who carry out his missions. Since Noordin is believed to be in Java, staying in small villages where he’s introduced to unsuspecting locals as a friend, police have asked village leaders to report any strangers in their midst.
Noordin’s ability to blend in is legendary. Last month police arrested Arina Rahmah after it was revealed that her husband of four years was none other than he. She says she was introduced to Noordin, who went by the name Ade Abdul Hakim, by her father, the head of the local school, and she had no idea of his true identity.
While Noordin’s whereabouts are unknown, at least one mystery has been solved. The body recovered from the farmhouse was identified as Ibrohim Muharram. He worked for a florist in both hotels and was seen on security footage unloading containers said to contain the explosive devices. After the July bombings he had vanished too—just like Noordin.