MANILA: Three top commanders of the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militant groups were among the 15 people slain in a pre-dawn air strike on the island province of Sulu in volatile Mindanao, a top military official reported on Thursday.
In a press briefing, Colonel Arnulfo Burgos, the spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, identified the three commanders as Zulkriffli bin Hir alias “Marwan,” a Malaysian; Abdullah Ali alias “Mauwiyah,” a Singaporean; and Umbra Jumdaili alias “Doc Abu.”
Burgos said Marwan, described as a bomb expert, and Mauwiyah belonged to the JI’s central command and were among the most wanted men in the region with hefty cash rewards offered by the US government for their capture.
On the other hand, he said that Jumdaili was a ranking Abu Sayyaf leader wanted by a Mindanao regional court for his alleged involvement in the abduction of foreigners and Filipinos from the Malaysian resort island of Sipadan in 2001 and the ritzy Dos Palmas resort in Palawan province in the Philippines in 2004.
Burgos added the death of the three commanders dealt a major blow to the JI and the Abu Sayyaf, which regional security experts have confirmed to have ties with the global Al Qaeda terrorist network.
According to Burgos, two OV-10 Philippine Air Force planes bombed a group of about 30 suspected militants at about 3am on Thursday in a remote “barangay” (village) in the town of Parang in Sulu.
He said the militants were apparently sleeping in tents put up in a highly vegetated area under the cover of coconut trees when the planes pounded their hideout.
The air strike, Burgos said, was launched after the military had verified information on the presence of the three top commanders and their men in the village of Parang.
He explained that no soldiers were involved in an armed clash with the suspected militants after the air attack.
“The troops on the ground have confirmed the death of 15 ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) and the JI members,” Burgos said. “This operation is a product of thorough intelligence and carefully planned.”
Major General Noel Coballes, the newly appointed head of the Western Mindanao military command, agreed, saying: “This is a deliberate, fully planned attack coming from our forces. This will certainly have a major impact on the capability of the terrorists because three of their leaders were killed.”
The US government has offered a $5 million cash reward for Marwan, $140,000 for Jumdaili and $50,000 for Mauwiyah.
Coballes said the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US filed a criminal complaint against Marwan before a district court in California in August 007 for allegedly providing material support to terrorists and making false statements, among others.
According to the Associated Press, American counterterrorism troops have helped ill-equipped Filipino troops track Marwan for years using satellite and drone surveillance.
The agency says about 600 US special forces troops have been deployed in the southern Philippines since 2002, providing crucial support for the Philippines’ counterterrorism operations.