Police said they were narrowing in on a Southeast Asia terror ringleader Friday, with thousands of troops going door-to-door, checking cars, and combing railway and bus stations in central Indonesia. The manhunt for Malaysian fugitive Noordin Mohamad Top, believed to be a key member of the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, follows the death of his closest ally in terror, Azahari bin Husin, who was killed in a police raid on Wednesday.
Though Azahari's death was a blow to the group, which former members say is motivated in part by anger at U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world, security experts cautioned that several key Jemaah Islamiyah figures remain on the run.
While Azahari was noted for his bomb-making skills, Top is seen as the group's real strategist and one of its main recruiters.
"We're moving in on Noordin," said Maj. Gen. Ansyaad Mbai, the country's anti-terror chief, as thousands of troops were deployed to Central Java province. "It's only a matter of time before we catch him."
Authorities have said several times in recent years that they were hot on Top's trail, but their success in tracking down Azahari gave new credence to their claims.
Detectives, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation, said their focus Friday was on the city of Semarang.
Troops were going door-to-door in some places, said police spokesman Maj. Gen. Aryanto Budihardjo, and were scouring bus terminals and railway stations.
The discovery of more than 30 bombs inside Azahari's hideout, many of them small devices easily contained in backpacks, triggered speculation that Jemaah Islamiyah was planning more terror strikes and added urgency to the hunt.
Top and Azahari are accused of direct involvement in at least four terror attacks: the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists; two bombings in Jakarta in 2003 and 2004 that took at least 22 lives; and the Oct. 1 suicide attacks in Bali that caused 20 more deaths, reports the AP. I.L.