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Indonesia Reports Breakthrough in Fight  Against  Terrorism - 2003-07-12


Police in Indonesia have made a major breakthrough in the fight against terrorism with the arrest of six alleged Islamic extremists and the seizure of huge quantities of explosives and ammunition. Evidence has emerged suggesting that the country's president was one of the militants' targets.

This week's arrests were made in two locations. Four men were seized in the central Javanese city of Semarang, where, hidden behind a shoe shop, police say they found ingredients for a bomb more destructive than the one that killed 202 people in Bali last October.

Police then arrested three people Friday in the heart of Indonesia's capital, Jakarta. One of these men, named Ichwanudin, was allegedly the city commander for the terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI.

The Indonesian police say JI was the group behind the Bali bomb and other acts of terrorism, and members of the group have also been arrested for planned or completed terrorist acts in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The head of Jakarta's police force, General Makbul Padmanegara, said that despite being handcuffed, Ichwanudin, was able to seize a weapon and shoot himself fatally in the chest.

The Jawa Pos, a respected local newspaper, reported Saturday that Ichwanudin was captured at a house he had rented only a few hundred meters from one of the residences of the Indonesian president, Megawati Sukarnoputri. This suggested that she might have been one of the terror organization's intended targets.

The police also they also found a schedule of events at Christian churches, raising fears that they were planning a bombing campaign similar to the one three years ago, in which 19 people were killed by a series of bombs planted outside churches on Christmas Eve.

Analysts warn that despite dozens of arrests over the past year, JI still retains the capability to launch murderous attacks to further its aim of creating an Islamic superstate across much of Southeast Asia.

They say that although the arrests over the past week constitute another serious blow to JI, the organization's most feared operator is still at large. He is Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, the man reported to be the chief lieutenant in the region of the al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden.