Jakarta - While the death of "Demolition Man" Azahari Hussin during a gunbattle last week is a significant success for the Indonesian police, few would be so bold as to declare that his demise marks a turning point in the war against terror. Instead, the authorities in Indonesia and the region are bracing for scattered attacks carried out by different militant groups whose only bond is their ideology.
Police shot and killed Azahari, a Malaysian and the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) bomb-expert, during a raid at his hideout in Malang, East Java, on Nov 9. The Indonesian police have clarified that Azahari, 48, did not blow himself up after he and his group were cornered by the police. Instead, the former university lecturer, linked to a series of major bomb blasts in Indonesia, was shot by the police before he could detonate the explosives he was carrying during the gunbattle.
The search is now on for his accomplice, fellow Malaysian Noordin Mohd Top, who managed to escape before the Malang raid. Noordin, the reputed JI's chief strategist, is said to be just as dangerous.
"He is brilliant at recruiting people," said one analyst. "He is the one who convinces recruits to commit suicide bombings, imbues them with absolute faith that there is no greater glory than to die as a mujahid (holy warrior)."
Despite Noordin's importance, even his arrest will not be able to bring the Jemaah Islamiah, the regional terror network with links to Al-Qaeda, to a standstill.
According to Indonesian expert Sidney Jones, Azahari and Noordin had set up a special armed cell - the Thoifah Muqatilah or Combat Unit - to train and prepare a fresh batch of Muslim extremists.
"We don't know who were the members of this unit, we don't know where they are, but we can expect some killings by those linked to the group to prove a point, to retaliate," Ms Jones told Singapore's The Straits Times.
In Jakarta, Indonesia's top anti-terrorism chief has also voiced another worry: That Islamic militants, operating in small groups, could carry out widely dispersed attacks across Indonesia following Azahari's death.
"They are metamorphosing into small groups, and each is not tied to a hierarchy," said Mr Ansyaad Mbai, who heads the anti-terrorism desk at Indonesia's Ministry of Security.
"Each group can autonomously interpret in what situation they can mount an attack and who are the targets. Their only bond is their ideology and mindset," he added.
An Indonesian anti-terror officer probably best sums up the threat facing the region following Azahari's death. "It's like a tumour. Azahari's death is like having half a tumour cut off. The other half will grow back and become even bigger," the unidentified officer told Malaysia's New Straits Times.
* Still dangerous and elusive (The Straits Times, Nov 11)
* 'Dispersed attacks' new terror worry (The Jakarta Post, Nov 13)
* Noordin's now enemy No 1 (New Straits Times, Nov 11)