Walking bombs’ spark dragnet

Police fear two senior JI members, on the run and armed with explosives, could blow themselves up.

A NATIONWIDE hunt is on for two of South-east Asia’s most-wanted terrorists, who have strapped themselves with explosives to become ‘walking bombs’.

Up to 1,000 policemen are in the hunt for bomb-making experts Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohammad Top, both senior members of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorist network.

Police are tapping phone lines, stopping cars and searching houses in the Bandung area, from where Azahari and Noordin narrowly escaped capture recently.

Intelligence officials conceded last night that they could have escaped by land or sea to Sumatra, Kalimantan or Sulawesi.

Brigadier-General Gorris Mere, the country’s top counter-terrorism official, said Azahari and Noordin were each carrying about 4.5kg of explosives that they could detonate if captured.

‘The risks are very high that they will just blow themselves up, killing innocent people,’ he told The Sunday Times.

Police found six 1kg bombs in the house the men rented in Bandung. They also discovered 5kg of TNT and a vest similar to that worn by the suicide bomber in last year’s Bali blasts.

Brig-Gen Gorris said police allowed Azahari and Noordin to make a run for it last week for fear they would detonate the bombs in a residential area.

Police learnt of their hideout after arresting two suspects for the Marriott bombing in a hotel in Cirebon at dawn last Wednesday. They, too, had bombs strapped to them, but they did not have time to trigger the switches.

Both Azahari and Noordin are believed to have been involved in the Oct 12 Bali bombings and the strike on the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in August.

Together with an Indonesian known as Dulmatin, they are thought to have some 150kg of explosives hidden in various parts of the country in preparation for fresh terrorist attacks next month on international hotels and expatriate residential areas.

A Western intelligence source said he doubted Azahari or Noordin would carry out suicide bombings, given their seniority in the JI.

But, he added, they could easily pass on the bombs to underlings in the network.

The worst-case scenario now, he said, was for ‘an operative with a vest’ to get onto a motorcycle and crash it into a bank, shopping mall or lobby of an office building.

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