Indonesian police are investigating possible links between a purported new militant network with al-Qaida, with initial indications showing it was set up by two key Malaysian radicals, police said on Tuesday.
On Monday, Indonesia’s police chief told parliamentarians that documents seized in November showed Noordin M. Top had proclaimed himself leader of a group called Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad network, or Organization for the Basis of Jihad.
Top has been Southeast Asia’s most wanted Islamic militant since Indonesian anti-terrorism police killed his sidekick, Malaysian Azahari bin Husin, in a shootout in East Java province that coincided with raids in which the documents were found.
An expert in recruiting young suicide bombers among Indonesia’s impoverished masses, Top eluded capture at the time but was still in the country, deputy national police spokesman Brigadier General Anton Bachrul Alam said on Tuesday.
Asked what links Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad had to groups such as Jemaah Islamiah, a shadowy network long seen as the regional arm of al-Qaida, Alam said: “This (Tanzim) was their group --Noordin and Azahari. They have long been involved in terrorism.”
Top and Azahari were also key members of Jemaah Islamiah.
The seized documents did not give details about Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad, Alam added, although security experts have said Jemaah Islamiah has recently splintered, with concern among some that bombing attacks were drawing too much attention.
The previously unheard of Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad encompassed Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and several other countries, police chief General Sutanto said late on Monday.
Investigators were checking to see if it had links to al-Qaida, police said.
Indonesia’s chief of detectives, Makbul Padmanegara, however, told reporters that Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad was not a new organization and might be part of Jemaah Islamiah.
“There is no new grouping. But the people in it might be new ... they have to recruit,” Padmanegara said.
Indonesian authorities have blamed Jemaah Islamiah for a number of major bombings against Western targets in recent years. Top has been key player in most attacks, police say.
A number of junior militants linked to Top have been arrested in the past couple of months in Indonesia, since police killed Azahari, who was Jemaah Islamiah’s master bombmaker.
The two men worked closely together on several attacks, police have said, using their charisma and cash to induct budding militants into their anti-Western cause.
Western governments have warned that Jemaah Islamiah was still a threat, despite a series of arrests of various members and the killing of Azahari.