- Associated Press - Thursday, February 2, 2012

MANILA (AP) — The Philippine military said it killed Southeast Asia’s most-wanted terrorist and two other senior militants Thursday in a U.S.-backed airstrike marking one of the region’s biggest anti-terrorism successes in recent years.

The dawn strike targeting a militant camp on a southern Philippine island killed Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, a top leader of the regional, al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terror network, said Col. Marcelo Burgos, a military spokesman.

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

Also killed were the leader of the Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf militants, Umbra Jumdail, and a Singaporean leader in Jemaah Islamiyah, Abdullah Ali, who used the guerrilla name Muawiyah, Col. Burgos said.


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.

Police recovered the bodies of the three militant leaders, and they were “positively identified by police and our intelligence informants at the site,” Col. Burgos told the Associated Press. “What I know is that they will be buried.”

About 30 militants were at the camp near Parang town on Jolo Island, the stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf and their allies from the mostly Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah, when it was bombarded by two OV10 aircraft at 3 a.m., Maj. Gen. Noel Coballes, the regional military commander, said.

“Our report is there were at least 15 killed, including their three leadership,” he 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, Gen. Coballes said.

However, two Philippine security officials with knowledge of the airstrike told the AP that Marwan’s body was not found, contradicting Col. Burgos‘ statement. They said it was not clear if it was because of the bombs’ shattering impact on a house where Marwan was believed to be.

They said the body of Jumdail, also known as Dr. Abu Pula, was buried later Thursday. One of the officials said the dead included Jumdail’s son, also an Abu Sayyaf fighter.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

American counterterrorism troops have helped ill-equipped Filipino troops track Marwan for years using satellite and drone surveillance. About 600 U.S. special forces troops have been deployed in the southern Philippines since 2002, providing crucial support for the Philippines‘ counterterrorism operations.

Pending confirmation, Marwan’s death represents the most important success against the Jemaah Islamiyah network 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 U.S. commando attack four months later.

Patek and Marwan allegedly 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.

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