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

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.

During Thursday’s attack, the Philippine air force dropped four bombs weighing 500 pounds each from two bomber planes, said Maj. Gen. Jose Villarete, head of the 3rd Air Division, based at an air force base in Zamboanga city.

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

U.S.-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 had eluded troops in numerous offensives and emerged as a key figure in the radical movement.

Most recently, all three of the militant 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 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.

On Wednesday, gunmen in nearby Tawi-Tawi island province snatched Dutch and Swiss tourists and, officials said, were attempting to move them to Jolo in an impoverished Muslim region 600 miles south of Manila.

Jim Gomez reported from Bangkok. Associated Press writer Oliver Teves contributed from Manila.