BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — The death of a senior terror suspect in a gunfight with police has been both a trophy for Indonesia and an unsettling reminder ahead of President Barack Obama's visit that the country's battle against resurgent extremists is far from over.
Dulmatin, 39, who learned bomb-making from al-Qaida in Afghanistan, on Tuesday became the highest ranking suspect killed in the latest Indonesian counterterrorism crackdown, which has claimed the lives of at least five suspected militants, three policemen and two bystanders.
Police denied that the timing of their crackdown on the main Indonesian island of Java and the western province of Aceh was linked to Obama's visit, which begins March 20.
"We've been searching for Dulmatin for eight years, so this is not a sudden crackdown," police spokesman Brig. Gen. Sulistyo Ishak told The Associated Press.
Police say the timing has been dictated by a new threat from an old enemy, Jemaah Islamiyah, which authorities say has newly established itself in Aceh. The Southeast Asian offshoot of al-Qaida is blamed for Indonesia's most deadly terrorist attack on the tourist island of Bali in 2002.
Police are waging a cat-and-mouse guerrilla war against the group in the wilds of Aceh that could drag on through Obama's visit.
Villagers say they are now too scared to leave their homes after dark and are angry that the militants' presence has shattered the peace that Aceh has enjoyed since 2005 when Jakarta ended a violent 30-year separatist movement by making the province semiautonomous.
"We don't want terrorists here," said Teuku Maimun, an Aceh village leader. "We don't want our bitter experiences of the past to be repeated."
Authorities had not clearly identifed the militants they were fighting in Aceh until Wednesday, when Police Chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri declared that the group was Jemaah Islamiyah and that their leader had been Dulmatin.
He was killed Tuesday in a brief gunfight with police at an Internet cafe outside the national capital Jakarta.
Some independent terrorism analysts disagree that the group is Jemaah Islamiyah, arguing that it is a new hybrid that has attracted the more militant elements of other established terror networks.
Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional network formed by Indonesians in Malaysia, has been hounded and dismantled by law enforcement agencies since it was blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202, including many Western tourists.
Many of its militants were arrested or killed in a massive police crackdown after the bombings, so Dulmatin, a suspected mastermind of the Bali attacks, reportedly fled in 2003 to the Philippines where he became involved with the al-Qaida linked Abu Sayyaf militants.
An Indonesian official told The Associated Press that information from militants arrested on Aceh led police to the Jakarta outskirts where they shot dead Dulmatin on Tuesday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make the information public.
About 30 suspected militants have been arrested in the latest crackdown, which started with a Feb. 22 raid on a paramilitary training camp in southern Aceh. Police with assault rifles and body armor drove an estimated 50 militants from the camp in remote Krueng Linteung and into the forest in an hour-long battle.
There is now little evidence that a camp existed there except for a few wooden poles that apparently once supported tarpaulins shelters, empty water bottles and instant noodle wrappers.
A police intelligence officer in Aceh, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said planning for the raid began in November.
Villagers in the district reported seeing strangers in recent months, but thought they were police searching for illegal marijuana plantations, deer hunters or fishermen.
Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf said he had been watching the group with growing concern as they recruited over the past year, and said they had planned to make Aceh their Southeast Asian headquarters.
Greg Fealy, an Australian National University expert on Indonesian terrorism who is visiting Jakarta, said he was surprised by how quickly the group became a credible danger.
"This is the creation of a new composite group and that's a worrying development how quickly these groups can spring up," he said.
Sidney Jones, Jakarta-based senior adviser for the International Crisis Group think tank, said she believed the new group recently released an Internet statement and video under the name "al-Qaida in Aceh." Police have said they are investigating whether that group exits.
"It seems to be a group of disaffected elements of virtually every other jihadist group in Indonesia who wanted more action than their own leadership is willing to provide," Jones said. "It's a seriously dangerous organization."
She said the Aceh group and the two Jakarta hotel bombings in July last year were proof that the police crackdown since the Bali bombings had made terrorists better at operating under the radar.
"The crackdown has produced major successes and major results, but I don't think anybody, least of all the police, believes that the threat is anywhere near eradicated," she added. (AP)