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Blow for Indonesia as militant Top eludes police

JAKARTA (Reuters) - A suspect shot dead in Indonesia last weekend was not Islamic militant Noordin Mohammad Top and he is still at large, police said on Wednesday, dashing hopes for a breakthrough in a hunt for the mastermind of a string of attacks.

Relatives carry a coffin containing the body of suspected suicide bomber, identified as Dani Dwi Permana, 18, who is believed have been involved in last month's attack on the JW Marriott, to be buried in Parung, West Java August 12, 2009. Nine were left dead and 53 injured in the July 17 attacks on luxury hotels JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta. REUTERS/Stringer

The man killed in the raid was identified as Ibrohim, who worked as a florist in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Jakarta and is suspected to be the inside man on the suicide bombings at two luxury hotels in Jakarta last month.

“We checked samples with (Ibrohim’s) family in Cilimus and it’s a 100 percent match,” Eddy Saparwoko, head of Indonesia’s Disaster Victim Identification unit, told a news conference. Cilimus is a district in Cirebon in West Java.

Top is believed to have planned last month’s near-simultaneous on the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels, which killed nine people and wounded 53.

The police were at first confident that Top had been killed during an 18-hour siege at a remote farmhouse in Central Java. However, they said on Wednesday that forensic tests now showed they had killed an accomplice, not Top.

Media reports quoting police sources said Top probably fled a few hours before the anti-terrorism unit raided the house. Police confirmed that a suspect had told them that Top was in the house.

National police spokesman Nanan Soekarna said the authorities believed Top was still in Indonesia and expected him to keep on trying to launch attacks. “The assumption is that he will keep on doing so,” he told reporters.

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Top, who formed a violent wing of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) militant network, is blamed for a series of attacks, including on the JW Marriott in Jakarta in 2003, on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in 2004 and in Bali in 2005.

His escape is a blow for security forces and efforts to contain further attacks in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

“The fact that Noordin is still at large means there’s still a possibility of his group mounting other attacks in the future,” said Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based expert on Islamic militants at the International Crisis Group.

“I think it’s got to be still the number one priority of the police to find out where he is and find out who else was involved in the planning of these attacks,” added Jones.

Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert based in Singapore said news that Top remained on the run would probably elevate his stature further among radical Islamic groups in the region.

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The threat of more attacks this year remained high, said intelligence expert Dynno Chressbon, noting sensitive upcoming events included a likely visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Police showed CCTV footage where Ibrohim, who called himself Boim at work, appeared to be surveying parts of the lobby and restaurant in the hotel with one of the suicide bombers. He disappeared immediately after the attacks.

Soekarna described him as the “field commander” for the operations. Police said he had been a member of JI since 2000.

“He was the planner, organizer, controller, operator of the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings,” added Soekarna, who said Ibrohim had attended a meeting that included Top and the two suicide bombers prior to the attacks.

A day before the July 17 attacks Ibrohim had helped smuggle in bombs concealed in boxes of flowers via a hotel loading bay to room 1808 at the Marriott where they were assembled, police said.

Police have identified the suicide bombers as two men, aged 18 and 28, who were previously unknown to authorities.

Police believe Ibrohim was also lined up to be the suicide bomber in a plot to attack a residence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono using a pickup truck packed with explosives in retaliation for the execution of the Bali bombers last year.

Indonesian stocks fell around 2.5 percent on Wednesday, although Ari Pitoyo, head of equity research at Mandiri Sekuritas, said that he did not think confirmation that Top remained free had hit sentiment significantly.

Additional reporting by Ed Davies, Dicky Kristanto and Telly Nathalia; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Bill Tarrant