After a short period of public doubt, the Indonesian National Police finally ascertained on September 19 that a DNA test has positively identified Noordin Mohammad Top as the man killed in a raid on a safe-house in the outskirts of Solo, Central Java on September 17.
Top used to be with Jemaah Islamiyah, touted to be al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia. Ideological opposition to high-profile terror attacks from within JI led to differences in opinion, making Top break away from the main group to form his new group Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad in early 2006.
‘Top was an accomplished operational commander. He was responsible for a number of terrorist attacks in Indonesia, including the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, the 2003 JW Marriott bombing in Jakarta, the 2004 attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, and most recently, the July 17 bombings of the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta.’
Militant groups crucially need leadership. Without it, they tend to wither or disintegrate. They lose the ability to conduct effective attacks. ‘Quite simply, leadership, skill and professionalism make the difference between a militant group wanting to attack something — i.e., possessing intent — and the group’s ability to successfully carry out its intended attack — i.e., its capability.’
Top was tough to have weathered both external pressure from police and military out to get him, as well as from the ranks of the JI. ‘Yet in spite of all this external and internal pressure, Top was still able to recruit new operatives, secure funding and maintain tight operational security. Top’s penchant for security even sparked rumors that he had some sort of mystical protection, rumors fanned by the many false reports of his capture or death. The ability to operate under such trying circumstances is the mark of a seasoned leader.’
The capture and death of Top harvested considerable volumes of intelligence for the police and the military. ‘Because of this intelligence windfall, we can anticipate a string of raids by the Indonesian government in the following days and weeks.’ His replacement in the leadership of the jihadi group is under even greater challenges. The replacement’s capability to withstand the pressure determines the operational existence of the militant group.