11/10/2005, 00.00
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Azahari was preparing Christmas terrorist attacks against churches

About 30 home-made explosive devices found in the hideout used by the group linked to Jemaah Islamiyah. Azahari's death is confirmed.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) –Azahari bin Husin and his terrorist group were preparing a series of bomb attacks against churches in Malang to coincide with the Christmas festivities, this according to police sources. Police are still trying to determine why Azahari had rented a villa in Batu, a mountainous tourist resort near the city of Malang (East Java), but intelligence sources believe that his "target was a very big church in Malang".

Yesterday Azahari allegedly blew himself up to avoid capture by a special police anti-terrorist squad after a two-hour operation in Batu. And today police sources confirmed that the human remains that were tested were those of the wanted terrorist.

Malang is a tourist resort area 80 km south of Surabaya, capital of East Java province. It is home to many Catholic religious orders like the Verbites and Carmelites as well as a major seminary that received hundreds of seminarians from different orders to study philosophy and theology.

The St Joseph College Senior High School is another well known local Catholic institution and is run by Carmelite sisters. The Bishop's residence is close to the school.

In addition to Catholic institutions, there are several Protestant ones.

Investigators believe that Azahari was planning a series of bomb attacks on Christmas night and during the festive season. Something similar had already occurred on Christmas day 2000 when bombs exploded in five churches in Jakarta and other Indonesian cities.

Protestant churches in Sulawesi were targets of attacks in recent years, Christians in East Java were equally victims of extremist violence.

In the villa that had become the terrorists' hideout, police found 30 explosive devices and several semiautomatic guns with silencer.

Anil Warman, 19, who lives just a few metres from the place, said that last Saturday night he saw two members of Azahari's group carry something in a box in a hurry.

"They seemed to be in a hurry to bring the box into the house so that other people would not see what they had," he said.

Police Chief General Sutanto said again that he was certain that Azahari was dead. The head of the terrorist was "intact" and recognisable. His fingerprints have also been matched with those sent by Malaysian police.

Malaysian-born, Azahari was a key figure in Jemaah Islamiyah, a terrorist group with links to al-Qaeda. It is considered responsible for five terrorist attacks in Indonesia, including the October 2002 and October 2005 Bali attacks.

Another dead body found at the villa is believed to be that of Armand whose role is still being under investigation. However, another terrorist on the top wanted list, Noordin Moh Top, is still at large.

Police is also investigating what role a certain CH (Cholil or Chosin) played. He was arrested in Semarang a few hours before the raid in Batu, and provided the authorities with the information that enabled them to raid Azahari's hideout.

Some sources believe that CH became Azahari's protégé after being recruited and trained to be another bomb expert.

Abu Bakar Bashir's lawyer, Mahendradatta, expressed concern over Azahari's death. Bashir is considered to be the Jemaah Islamiyah's spiritual leader and has been accused of having ties with Azahari.

In the lawyer's view, had Azahari been captured alive he could have shed light on the terrorist attacks and exonerated his client from any suspicions.

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