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Indonesia probes Internet claim on hotel blasts

Police are investigating the origin of an Internet message claiming responsibility for twin hotel bombings in Indonesia's capital nearly two weeks ago.
Indonesia Explosions
An Indonesian man walks past by the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Jakarta on Wednesday. The five-star hotels hit by suicide bombers in Indonesia's capital nearly two weeks ago were reopened Wednesday with tighter security.Irwin Fedriansyah / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Police were investigating the origin of an Internet message claiming responsibility for twin hotel bombings in Indonesia's capital nearly two weeks ago. The group calling itself al-Qaida Indonesia said the attacks targeted the American business community.

The message surfaced Wednesday and was purportedly signed by Noordin Mohammed Top, a key terrorist suspect in Southeast Asia. It said the attacks were carried out by a splinter faction of the al-Qaida-linked regional militant group Jemaah Islamiyah.

An expert on regional terrorism said the language resembles previous claims by Muslim extremist groups and may be authentic.

The splinter group has been considered the most likely perpetrators of the hotel attacks. An unexploded bomb recovered from the scene resembled devices used by the group before and documents seized from members indicated they intended to hit prominent Western targets.

Police said they were investigating the message, but were not sure if it was truly from Malaysian fugitive Noordin or if it will provide new clues in the hunt for those responsible for the blasts that killed seven and wounded more than 50 at the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels.

The statement, which surfaced the same day the hotels reopened for guests amid tightened security, said the bombings targeted the U.S. business community and "infidels who fight Islam and Muslims."

Lull in terrorist attacks broken
The July 17 attacks in Jakarta's upscale business district have forced Indonesia to re-evaluate its widely praised fight against violent Islamists, which combined a "soft" social element of de-radicalization with the systematic arrests of hundreds of suspected militants.

Written in Arabic and Indonesian, the message was posted on a previously unknown Web site on Sunday and vows to follow up by posting footage of the carnage.

Police spokesman Sulityo Ishak said the message dated July 26 is part of their inquiries into the blasts, which broke a four-year lull in terror attacks in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Noordin is already accused of planning four previous attacks in Indonesia that killed more than 240 people. His group claimed responsibility for just one of those strikes — triple suicide bombings in Bali in 2005 — in a similar note.

"It is entirely plausible that the statement could have originated from Noordin Top, but we can't really know for sure," said Jim Della-Giacoma, Southeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group think tank. "It is interesting that the statement mentions the names of two late close associates of Noordin, both of whom were killed by police."

U.S. business criticized
The statement said the twin bombings were carried out in honor of Azahari bin Husin, a top Jemaah Islamiyah bomb maker who was fatally shot by counterterrorism forces in November 2005, and Sariyah Jabir, another explosives expert who was killed in April 2006 during a raid on a militant hide-out in central Java

FILE - This combination of undated file photos released by the Indonesian police shows Malaysian terror suspect Noordin Mohammad Top. Southeast Asia's most wanted Muslim militant, Malaysian Noordin Mohammad Top, has eluded capture for nearly a decade and is said to be a masterful bomb-maker and aspiring regional commander for al-Qaida. Indonesian Police HO

The men are believed to have played crucial roles in Bali bombings in 2002 and 2005, a previous attack on the J.W. Marriott in 2003 and an explosion at the Australian Embassy in 2004.

The American business community is accused of stealing Indonesia's vast natural resources to fight Islam. The statement said the bombings were "done by a holy warrior brother against the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry."

Among victims of J.W. Marriott explosion were more than a dozen prominent business executives from Western corporations, who were attending a weekly breakfast in the lounge. That attack killed a New Zealander, three Australians and an Indonesian cook. At least six Americans were wounded.

The blast at the Ritz-Carlton — consistently misspelled Rizt-Calrton in the note — was aimed at football players "of Manchester United at that hotel" who had been booked to check in the following day. A Dutch couple on holiday died in that attack.

"Those players are God's enemies who do not deserve honors and respects from Muslims," said the note, signed by the "leader of the Tandzim al-Qaida Indonesia."

Eluding capture
No suspects have been formally named by police, but thousands of Noordin posters have been distributed to the public. He is believed to have escaped capture at least half a dozen times over the past seven years.

A huge police operation has rounded up a number of alleged Noordin supporters, including a woman who is believed to be one of his wives. The search is ongoing for the main perpetrators and a man who did flower arrangements for both hotels. He resigned the morning of the blasts and has not been seen since.

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