A top leader of a radical militant organization apparently died Wednesday during a series of explosions and a furious gun battle with police who raided his hideout on the Indonesian island of Java, law enforcement officials said in Jakarta.
Malaysian fugitive Azahari Husin, a leader of the Jemaah Islamiah organization, had eluded capture at least six times previously, embarrassing Indonesian police. He specialized in making bombs for terrorist attacks and was known in the Malaysian news media as "Demolition Man."
Despite a three-year manhunt, intelligence officials said Azahari had been able to direct several major terrorist attacks in Indonesia, most recently the suicide bombings of three restaurants on the island of Bali that killed 22 people last month.
In recent weeks, police tracked Azahari to a house near the resort town of Malang on the eastern end of Java, Indonesia's main island, according to the country's police chief, Gen. Sutanto. He said the site had been under surveillance since late last month. He told reporters that investigators confirmed Azahari's whereabouts after questioning a suspected militant arrested in the central Java city of Semarang.
When an anti-terrorist police unit surrounded the hideout Wednesday afternoon, people inside opened fire, Sutanto said. During an hour-long gun battle, police said, the militants set off nearly a dozen explosions, including a final, tremendous blast that rocked the neighborhood. Witnesses told local television that the explosions blew the roof off the dwelling.
After the clash subsided, police discovered three bodies inside, including a dismembered corpse identified by Sutanto as that of Azahari. Indonesian investigators have long reported that Azahari kept explosives strapped to his body with the intention of detonating them if he was ever cornered. Police said all three men in the house had been wearing backpacks, apparently stuffed with explosives.
Officials said investigators would conduct a forensic examination to confirm that Azahari was one of those killed. Sutanto said officers had yet to search the premises because they suspected the building might be rigged with additional bombs.
The Indonesian government has made the capture of Azahari and his fellow Malaysian, Noordin Mohammed Top, an urgent priority.
Investigators have said the two men played a central role in all of the country's major terrorist bombings recently, including attacks on two Bali nightclubs in 2002, the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in 2003 and the Australian Embassy last year.
Special correspondent Yayu Yuniar in Jakarta contributed to this report.