After a seventeen hour stand-off and shoot-out, reports from Indonesia suggest that Noordin Mohammed Top — suspected in most of the nation’s terrorist bombings — is dead.
The BBC reports, “Police spokesman Nanan Soekarna said police believed Noordin and two or three of his followers were inside, but could not say whether they had been killed or injured.”
According to Nick Grace at the Long War Journal, there is little doubt of Noordin’s death. “Police made visual confirmation of Top through cameras attached to remote control robots that were deployed into the house and watched as he fled into a bathroom and, surrounded by a woman and three children, blew himself up.”
Noordin Mohammed Top is thought to be the mastermind behind the July attacks on the Jakarta Marriott and Ritz-Carlton. (UPDATE Saturday 3:16 pm eastern: “He’s not yet dead, in fact DNA tests prove that the body that was recovered was not of Noordin Mohammed Top,” Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the Singapore-based centre for violence and terrorism, told Al Jazeera.” This seems, however, to be a singular contrarian voice… at least right now.)
Even as these dramatic reports swirl across Java, word out of Pakistan places some doubt on the supposed death of Baitullah Mehsud. The BBC reports, “Commander Hakimullah Mehsud said reports of the Taliban leader’s death three days ago in an attack on a house in South Waziristan were ‘ridiculous’.” Hakimullah has been identified as among Baitullah’s most likely successors.
Baitullah Mehsud has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Pakistan, including the recent bombing of the Pearl Continental in Peshawar. He is also known to have been involved in planning attacks on Barcelona and Washington D.C.
Today’s front (web)page of the Pakistani newspaper DAWN nicely captures the current state of uncertainty. The top story leads with, “Good riddance, killer Baitullah. This is one hundred percent. We have no doubt about his death.” The second story is headlined, Pakistani Taliban commander denies Baitullah is dead and largely depends on the BBC story linked above.
If his death is confirmed, some predict a split in the Taliban-in-Pakistan movement Mehsud led. The News (Pakistan) reports the need to select a new leader, “will deal a major blow to the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as its division in splinter groups seems imminent.”
UPDATE (Saturday, August 8, 3:05 pm eastern)
Zeeshan Heider with Reuters is transmitting claims by the Pakistan government that, “shooting broke out between two rivals for the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban, and one of them may have been killed, the interior minister said on Saturday…’The infighting was between Wali-ur-Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters. “We have information that one of them has been killed. Who was killed we will be able to say later after confirming’.” At about 3:15 pm eastern Elena Becatoros and Zakar Khan with the Associated Press filed a new story questioning claims by Pakistan’s interior minister regarding the shoot-out between TTP rivals.
About 4:00 pm eastern Ismail Khan, reporting from Peshawar, and Sabrina Tavernise filing from Karachi, share a New York Times by-line for a report entitled, “Feuding kills a top militant, Pakistan says.” It’s a top-knotch overview with full context.