Philippines: al Qaeda Headbangers Meet Virgins
Among those killed are Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known asÂ Marwan, a top leader of the regionalÂ Jemaah IslamiyahÂ terror network. Â Also killed Thursday were the leader of the Philippine-basedÂ Abu SayyafÂ militants,Â Umbra Jumdail, and a Singaporean leader in Jemaah Islamiyah, Abdullah Ali, who used the guerrilla name Muawiyah….
Update from Al Jizz:
Philippines unsure if top rebel leader dead
- Army unable to confirm if US-backed airstrike killed top leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, a day after saying he was dead.
|Zulkifli bin Hir,Â also known as Marwan,Â was said to have been killed in aÂ US-backed airstrike [Reuters]|
The remains of a top leader of the regionalÂ Jemaah Islamiyah group have not been found, the Philippine militaryÂ said, a day after announcing that he had been killed in a US-backedÂ airstrike.
Troops on the ground were still combing the jungle camp, hit on Thursday,Â for the body of Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan,Â said regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang on Friday.
Military officials said at least 15 people were killed in the dawn strikeÂ on a camp on remote southern Jolo Island, including two otherÂ high-level leaders. A military spokesman in Manila, Colonel Marcelo Burgos,Â initially reported that Marwan was among them.
Marwan’s death would mark a major success in disrupting a networkÂ blamed for some of the most spectacular bombing attacks in Southeast Asia inÂ recent years.
But if the initial report proves incorrect, it would turn aÂ largely successful strike into at least a partial embarrassment for theÂ Philippine military, while burnishing the reputation of the elusive fighter.
The US has offered a $5m reward for the capture of Marwan, aÂ US-trained engineer accused of involvement in deadly bombings in theÂ Philippines and in theÂ training of otherÂ fighters.
Cabangbang, who is based in southern Zamboanga city, from where the bomberÂ planes in Thursday’s strike took off, said that the military’s announcementÂ of Marwan’s killing was based on information provided by informants.
HeÂ refused to elaborate, saying it would compromise their intelligence assets.
“We are still searching. Our troops are still there,” Cabangbang said.
He suggested that the blast could have obliterated Marwan’s body, sayingÂ the process of verification linked to the possible disbursement of the rewardÂ money to informants will be “more tedious” and could include DNA testing.
Two Philippine security officials with knowledge of the airstrike whoÂ spoke to the AP news agencyÂ also said Marwan’s body was not found, thoughÂ bombs shattered the house where he was believed to have been.
One of the officials confirmed the deaths of the other two otherÂ high-level leaders: Umbra Jumdail, who led the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf group, and a Singaporean leaderÂ of Jemaah Islamiyah, Abdullah Ali,Â who used the name Muawiyah.
The other official confirmed only theÂ death of Jumdail, also known as Dr Abu Pula, and his son.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were notÂ authorised to talk to reporters.
Cabangbang said the decision to announce the killings, including that ofÂ Marwan, was made by the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of theÂ Philippines, General Jessie Dellosa, after he was briefed by commanders.
“There are details that we cannot divulge because of operationalÂ security,” he said when pressed for details.
A US official in Washington confirmed the strike on Jolo Island, anÂ impoverished region 600 miles south of Manila, and said theÂ Pentagon provided assistance in what it termedÂ one of the region’s most successfulÂ anti-terrorism operations in years.
The strike debilitated a regional network that has relied on the restive southern Philippines, sometimesÂ called Southeast Asia’s Afghanistan, as a headquarters for planning bombingsÂ and a base for training and recruitment.
About 30 fighters were at the camp near Parang town on Jolo, theÂ stronghold of Abu Sayyaf and their allies from the mostlyÂ Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah, when it was bombarded by two OV10 aircraftÂ dropping 227kg bombs at 3 am, regional militaryÂ commander Major General Noel Coballes said.
“Our report is there were at least 15 killed, including their threeÂ leadership,” he said. “This is a deliberate, fully planned attack comingÂ from our forces.”
The rest of the fighters escaped and no one was captured, Coballes said.
Counterterrorism troops from the USÂ have helped ill-equipped Filipino troopsÂ track Marwan for years using satellite and drone surveillance.
About 600 US special forces troops have been deployed in the southern Philippines sinceÂ 2002, providing crucial support for theÂ country’s counterterrorismÂ operations.
Offensives launched by theÂ two countriesÂ have been credited for theÂ capture and killing of hundreds of Abu Sayyaf fighters and most top leadersÂ since the 1990s.