- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines Philippine forces yesterday continued their search for the body of Abu Sabaya, the notorious leader of a Muslim guerrilla gang who was presumed wounded and drowned after a firefight at sea yesterday.
Sabaya, 39, headed a faction of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group that abducted more than 100 people during the past year. Some escaped, some were freed and 18 died, including a California man who was beheaded and a Kansas missionary who was shot in a rescue attempt.
Military officials said local special forces, with surveillance and communications help from American troops, tracked down Sabaya and six of his men as they appeared to be fleeing Mindanao island in a boat before dawn.
The troops reported they came under fire and shot back. Southern military commander Maj. Gen. Ernesto Carolina said one soldier reported shooting an already-wounded Sabaya in the back as the guerrilla leader tried to swim away and that the soldier saw his body sinking.
Navy personnel were searching for the bodies of three men, particularly that of Sabaya. Four others surrendered to the security forces.
Sabaya, whose real name was Aldam Tilao, once studied computer engineering. After visiting Saudi Arabia for work, he returned home in the late 1980s and later disappeared.
The Philippine military said it had been hot on Sabaya's trail after a June 7 rescue attempt. Martin Burnham of Wichita, Kan., and Philippine nurse Ediborah Yap were killed in the ensuing fight, and Mr. Burnham's wife, Gracia, was rescued. The three were the last of the group's hostages.
Sabaya's trademark sunglasses were left behind as he and his men retreated. Washington recently offered a $5 million bounty for his capture.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo congratulated the military.
"Terrorists will be hunted down relentlessly wherever they are," she said. "Once behaving like kings … the Abu Sayyaf rebels now are like rats hiding in their holes."
One congressman called for a national holiday. But Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes cautioned, "We should not open the champagne bottle too early.
"Even if we succeed in neutralizing Abu Sabaya and his cohorts," he said, "we still have to maintain our vigilance because the terrorist threats remain."
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld commended Philippine forces for yesterday's engagement and "for their continued battle against the terrorist problems."
"There are other leaders, and there are other members of the group, and terrorism is terrorism," he said.


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