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(Reuters) - Indonesia's most wanted Islamic militant, Noordin Mohammad Top, died during a police raid on a house in Central Java overnight, police said Thursday, lifting a major security threat in Southeast Asia.
Malaysian-born Top, who set up a violent splinter group of the regional militant group, Jemaah Islamiah, was widely considered the mastermind behind bomb attacks on two luxury hotels in Jakarta in July, as well as other attacks in Bali and in Jakarta, killing scores of Westerners and Indonesians.
Police came close to capturing him in a shoot-out in Central Java in August.
Here are five facts about Top:
- Top, a key recruiter, strategist and financier for militant Muslim group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), has been on the run for years, eluding capture on several occasions. Some Javanese believe that Top must possess magic powers or charms that protect him. Police put it down to his reluctance to use easily tracked mobile phones and his reliance on a close network of sympathizers who guard his whereabouts and act as his couriers when he needs to send messages to his cells.
- He is said to have planned the bomb attacks on the JW Marriott in Jakarta in 2003, on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in 2004 and in Bali in 2005 -- attacks designed to scare off foreign tourists and businesses so that Jemaah Islamiah could create a caliphate across Southeast Asia.
- Top, 41, was born in Johor, southern Malaysia, and got a bachelor of science at the University of Technology, Malaysia in 1991. He taught in an Islamic boarding school in Malaysia set up by founders of Jemaah Islamiah and later fled to Indonesia after a crackdown on militants after the September 11 attacks in 2001. He was a close ally of Azahari Husin, a Malaysian bomb-maker, who was killed during a police raid in 2005 in East Java. He is thought to have escaped a raid in Central Java in 2006 when two other alleged militants were killed.
- He is among the most-wanted of Jemaah Islamiah's members, with a bounty of 1 billion rupiah ($100,900) on his head. He is widely believed to favor using bombs against Western targets, even if Indonesians and Muslims also get hurt.
- His disagreement with other Jemaah Islamiah members over the use of violence eventually led him to form a more violent splinter group in 2003, recruiting and training new members from other organizations for future operations. Since the Australian embassy bombing, the stated aim of his group -- Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad, or Organization for the Base of Jihad -- has been "to make Western nations tremble."
Reporting by Olivia Rondonuw, Sunanda Creagh and Ed Davies; Editing by Tomasz Janowski