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Wanted militant escapes Java safehouse raid

Written by: Staff
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JAKARTA, Apr 29 (Reuters) One of Asia's most wanted bombing suspects escaped a police raid on a central Java hideout today in which two people were killed, a senior officer said.

Police surrounded the house in Wonosobo, 375 km southeast of Jakarta, before dawn, hoping to trap Noordin Top, a Malaysian national wanted over a string of bombing attacks in Indonesia.

''We attacked them but they were fighting against us using M-16s. So there were exchanges of fire'' in which two men were killed, Anton Bahrul Alam, deputy national police spokesman, told local radio.

''But unfortunately Noordin Top was not there'', he said of the man police say is a leading figure in the al Qaeda-linked Southeast Asian network, Jemaah Islamiah.

He told Reuters one man was captured in the house.

''It was not Noordin. Noordin was not at the site,'' Alam said.

Last year, police killed a leading Jemaah Islamiah figure, Azahari, in a shootout. Azahari often travelled with Top, according to intelligence officials.

The militant Islamic Jemaah Islamiah is blamed for the October 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, many of them Australians, and a series of other attacks.

Police said those killed or captured today were aides of Top and Azahari, and two of them had helped assemble bombs.

One was a suspect in a bombing outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta in 2004.

Apart from that attack and the initial Bali bombings, Islamic militants have been linked to deadly strikes on a luxury hotel in Jakarta in 2003 and at restaurants in Bali in 2005.

Police have made hundreds of arrests of suspected violent militants and there have been scores of convictions, but experts say enough supporters remain at large to pose a serious threat.

Indonesia is a sprawling archipelago of 220 million people, 85 per cent of whom are Muslims, making it the world's most populous Islamic nation.

REUTERS SHB BST1106

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