Airstrike kills 3 terrorist leaders, 12 members

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Thursday, February 2, 2012


ZAMBOANGA CITY (Updated) -- The Philippine military said it killed Southeast Asia's most-wanted terrorist and two other senior militants Thursday in a US-backed airstrike marking one of the region's biggest anti-terrorism successes in recent years.

The dawn strike targeting a militant camp in the province of Sulu killed Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, a top leader of the regional al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror network, said military spokesman Colonel Marcelo Burgos.

The US had offered a $5 million reward for the capture of Marwan, a US trained engineer accused of involvement in a number of deadly bombings in the Philippines and in the training of new militants.

Also killed were the leader of the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf bandits, Umbra Jumdail alias Dr. Abu Pula, and a Singaporean leader in JI, Abdullah Ali, who used the guerrilla name Muawiyah, Burgos said.

Police recovered the bodies of the three bandit leaders, and were positively identified by intelligence informants at the site, Burgos said.

Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) chief Major General Noel Coballes said the airstrike was carried out around 3 a.m. Thursday in the village Duyan Kabau, Parang, Sulu.

About 30 bandits were at the camp near Parang town on Jolo Island, the stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf and their allies from the mostly Indonesian-based JI, when it was bombarded by two OV10 aircraft, Coballes said.

The Philippine Air Force dropped four bombs weighing 500 pounds (227 kilograms) each from the two bomber planes, said Major General Jose Villarete, head of the 3rd Air Division based in this city.

"Our report is there were at least 15 killed, including their three leadership," Coballos said. "This is a deliberate, fully planned attack coming from our forces."

The rest of the militants escaped and no one was captured after the attack, he added.

The strike significantly weakens a regional militant network that has relied on the restive southern Philippines — sometimes called Southeast Asia's Afghanistan — as a hideout, a headquarters for planning bombings and a base for training and recruitment.

American counterterrorism troops have helped Filipino troops track Marwan for years using satellite and drone surveillance. About 600 US Special Forces troops have been deployed in the southern Philippines since 2002, providing a crucial support for the Philippines' counterterrorism operations.

Pending confirmation by DNA testing, Marwan's death represents the most important success against regional terror network JI since the January 2011 arrest of Indonesian suspect Umar Patek in Pakistan's garrison town of Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was killed in a US commando attack four months later.

Patek and Marwan collaborated with the Abu Sayyaf in training militants in bomb-making skills, seeking funding locally and abroad and plotting attacks, including against American troops in the southern Philippines.

Patek is believed to have traveled back to Indonesia then onward to Pakistan, leaving Marwan to take charge in the southern Philippines, military officials said.

Thursday's attack also represents a huge blow to the Abu Sayyaf's ability to recover from years of battle setbacks through fund-raising and training of new militants.

Abu Sayyaf, the Philippine group, is behind numerous ransom kidnappings, bomb attacks and beheadings that have terrorized the Philippines for more than two decades.

US-backed Philippine offensives have been credited for the capture and killing of hundreds of Abu Sayyaf fighters and most top leaders since the 1990s.

Jumdail, who was among those killed Thursday, had eluded troops in numerous offensives and emerged as a key figure in the radical movement.

Most recently, all three of the bandit leaders were among the prime suspects in the kidnappings of three Red Cross workers from Switzerland, Italy and the Philippines in 2009. The hostages separately regained their freedom months later, reportedly after ransom payments.

The military estimates the strength of Abu Sayyaf militants at about 400. They are still considered a key threat to the regional security.

They are believed to be holding a former Australian soldier who was kidnapped before Christmas as well as a Malaysian, a Japanese and an Indian. (Bong Garcia/AP/Sunnex)

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