Nurfika Osman, Farouk Arnaz & Candra Malik
Investigations into the July 17 suicide bombings in Jakarta suffered two major setbacks on Sunday.
In the first, police in South Sulawesi said a man arrested over the weekend in Makassar was not, in fact, Malaysian terrorist leader Noordin M Top, the chief suspect in the attacks.
Police had detained a man resembling Noordin on Saturday, but their hopes of having finally captured Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist suspect were dashed when fingerprint tests came back negative.
Noordin, who leads a violent splinter cell of the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist network, has been blamed for multiple suicide bombings in Jakarta and Bali.
In the second setback, Central Java Police said they had been forced to release a man who they said had confessed to being a follower of Noordin and to planning a follow-up suicide attack to the bombings at the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels.
The suspect, Achmady, was arrested in Cilacap, Central Java, on Wednesday. He told police that Noordin had talked him into becoming a suicide bomber by promising him a glorious afterlife in heaven.
However, Central Java Police Chief Alex Bambang Riatmodjo, who had first told journalists about Achmady’s confession, said on Sunday that his story couldn’t be trusted. He declined to elaborate on why he had released Achmady, who readily confessed to being a part of Noordin’s terrorist network.
“We released him this morning because there is not enough evidence to prove that he is linked to the Cilacap network,” Riatmodjo said, referring to Noordin’s alleged supporters, including his wife, who was arrested last week, and her father, a boarding school director who is wanted by police.
“We are now trying to catch Maruto Jati Sulistiyono, a general physician from Klaten, as he is suspected to be Noordin’s right-hand man.”
Maruto had been living in Semarang, but disappeared after police raided his home a few months ago, Riatmodjo said.
After 10 days of following countless leads, the National Police have not announced the identify of the bombers or who financed the attacks. Authorities are under increasing pressure as the country’s business community and analysts have warned that failure to capture those responsible would hurt Indonesia’s image at home and abroad.
Early on Saturday, officers from the Detachment 88 counter-terrorism unit in Makassar arrested a man named Topan Haji, 48, and had been encouraged because the suspect was similar in appearance to Noordin, said South Sulawesi Police spokesman Herry Subiansauri.
“He was holding five different identity cards … and two passports,” Herry said.
“We arrested him after we received reports from his neighbor that there was something peculiar about him.”
He said Topan stayed indoors during the day and only went to Internet kiosks or a local mosque at night.
Herry said Topan admitted to being involved in electronic theft, and said he had moved to Makassar from Magetan, East Java, to avoid debtors.
Police confiscated from Topan a laptop, three cellular phones, Rp 700,000 ($70) and more than 20 credit cards.
Riatmodjo said police would keep distributing photographs of Noordin — they have so far circulated more than 15,000 posters and offered cash rewards for information — across Central Java.