Terrorist’s last hideout a tourism boon to sleepy Indonesian town

BATU, Indonesia – A huge banner points the way to Indonesia’s latest tourist attraction: the shattered remains of the house where Azahari Husin, one of Asia’s most-wanted terrorists, spent his last hours.

"From the first day until today, it’s been non-stop. And it’s been 42 days," 35-year-old Danny says as he does a brisk trade hawking three-dollar T-shirts with slogans like ‘The End of Dr. Azahari’.

Several hundred people a day, mostly Indonesians, he says, have been travelling to this sleepy resort town nestled among East Java’s towering volcanoes and usually popular for weekend getaways thanks to its cool climate.

Malaysian Azahari, a former lecturer, was cornered here by police after a years-long manhunt. As they descended on the house on the evening of November 9, an accomplice blew himself up, but police killed the master bombmaker in a volley of gunfire.

Azahari was a key member of Islamic extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah and stood accused of involvment in a litany of attacks in Indonesia, including the horrific Bali bombing three years ago, which left 202 people dead.

Danny’s colleague, student Samuel Raj, makes cash snapping polaroids of tourists who do not have their own cameras. He whips out a plastic lid marked with black tape and pierced with what appear to be bullet holes.

It belonged, he tells AFP, to one of the "suicide belts" stashed in the house in this well-heeled neighbourhood.

"It was found like this. Fourteen belts were found ready to be blown up and three were already blown," the 21-year-old explains. In pencil, 5/10 — presumably the date of manufacture — is written on white tape.

Widya, a 20-year-old Indonesian student, is here with her family from Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, for an overnight trip taking in the debris-filled site still crisscrossed with yellow police-line tape.

A caged teddy bear dangles from the intact front fence and a pair of underpants found inside hang unceremoniously nearby. A splatter of brown across one of the few remaining walls is "flesh and blood", the vendors say.

Widya’s family have snapped up the VCD of November 9 footage for 20,000 rupiah (about two dollars) and a package of photographs for 10,000 rupiah.

"I think it’s really exciting because I’ve never been to a place where something like this happened," Widya gushes.

Asked whether the family would have been lured here otherwise by Batu’s weather and lush green apple orchards, Widya’s mother considers for a moment: "No, I think it’s just Azahari."

A more circumspect retired policeman, Max Najowan, has made the trip from Sulawesi’s Manado, more than 1,500 kilometres away (930 miles) away.

"I just came to see this place. When it happened I saw it on television," he says. "This was big news for all."

He browses the T-shirt selection and reads the slogan of one: "The journey of a terrorist leader has come to an end. Dr Azahari (The Demolition Man) who was wanted by police. 9 November 2005, in Batu. He got what he deserved."

At the sprawling Kusum Agrowisata apple orchard nearby, supervisor Paulus Hari Susilo says Azahari’s demise here has also proved a boon for his business.

He reckons that for the first three weeks in December, about 200 Malaysians have toured his orchard after coming here to see Azahari’s house.

"Usually Malaysians are only here in small numbers… It’s good business for our company. They just visit my gardens and then Azahari’s house.

"It’s been a blessing in disguise," he says of the fact that Azahari was living among them. The Malaysians spend about 200,000 rupiah each on his array of apple products and "say it’s good Azahari was cut down here".

Tourism officials are clearly pleased at Batu’s newfound place on the map.

"Azahari being here was not good, but now that he is dead, everyone is coming to see the location. Batu has become popular," Batu tourism official Suwignyo grins.

But amid widespread fears over more extremist attacks in Indonesia — Azahari’s accomplice Noordin Mohammad Top is still on the run — they are reluctant to directly promote what happened.

"We promote the beauty of Batu, not the ‘accident’," says Kadiso, a marketing official from the East Java Government Tourism Service. "It’s an additional event."

He hastens to insist that security in the region — the launching point for the tourism jewel of Bali and also home to several of the Bali bombers — is tight and bristles at foreign government warnings against travel to Indonesia.

"We have good security here. That’s why Azahari could be arrested here in East Java," he says. "Our security is very, very good."

Plan are afoot to turn the house into a monument intended to highlight police success in the fight against terrorism, Batu’s mayor Imam Kabul reportedly said last month.

Back at the site, Raj points out bullet holes in the drainpipe of the house opposite and shows where a policeman ran after he was shot in the leg by a bullet from the hideout.

The neighbourhood doesn’t mind the bustle and outsiders poking their noses around, he claims: "People can sell a lot of things."

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