Malaysian militant chief claims to be leader of new terror group, police say

A Malaysian wanted for his alleged role in terror attacks in Indonesia is now claiming to head a new Southeast Asian militant organization with links to al-Qaida, Indonesia's police chief said Monday. The suspect, Noordin Top, had been regarded as a key leader in Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant network believed to be fighting for an Islamic state stretching across much of Southeast Asia. Its roots go back to the 1980s.

Indonesia's police chief, Gen. Sutanto, told lawmakers Monday that Noordin was claiming to be the head of the "Tanzim Qaedat-al Jihad" or "Organization for the Basis of Jihad" for Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.

"Qaedat" comes from the same Arabic language root as "al-Qaida." Sutanto, who goes by a single name, said the claim came in a message from Noordin in which he took responsibility for last year's restaurant bombings on Indonesia's Bali island, which killed 20. Sutanto declined to elaborate to reporters on the significance of the name change. Sutanto's revelation backs up the contention of some analysts, who have speculated that Noordin and his followers have been operating outside Jemaah Islamiyah's command structure in recent years, due to a rift within the network over attacks that kill innocent Muslims.

"If it is true that he has given a new name to the group that would suggest that the split has been formalized," said Sidney Jones, a leading expert on Southeast Asian militant groups, reports the AP. I.L.

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