- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

MANILA — Police reported killing a top bomb maker for an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group in a shootout yesterday, ending a massive three-month manhunt begun after his escape from Philippine police headquarters.

The killing of Fathur Al-Ghozi, one of the most-wanted terrorism suspects in Asia, ends an embarrassing episode for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and gives her a victory in the war on terrorism just six days before a visit by President Bush.

“The death of Al-Ghozi signals that terrorists will never get far in the Philippines, and that the long arm of the law will eventually get them,” Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement. “This event should lift much of the anxieties of our people.”

Police said the demolitions expert for Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah was killed in a shootout with a joint police-military team. The military said it had been able to confirm the identity of the body recovered from the clash from fingerprints of the terrorist on file.

Al-Ghozi had slipped out of the heavily secured police intelligence command building in July with two persons suspected of belonging to the Abu Sayyaf, another al Qaeda-linked terrorist group, setting off fears of attacks. The escape came as Australian Prime Minister John Howard was visiting Manila to discuss counterterrorism cooperation.

The search for the 32-year-old Muslim militant focused on the southern Philippines, and included cooperation with Indonesia and Malaysia.

Al-Ghozi had been captured in January last year in a downtown Manila hotel, according to officials. They say he had been a student of Jemaah Islamiyah’s spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir.

A confessed member of Jemaah Islamiyah, Al-Ghozi was serving 12 years for illegally possessing explosives and had admitted involvement in a series of five bombings Dec. 30, 2000, in Manila that killed 22 persons and injured more than 100. He escaped just hours before he was to be arraigned in the Manila case.

Al-Ghozi’s cell phone records show that he called Riduan Isamuddin, suspected of being Osama bin Laden’s point man in Southeast Asia, before and after the Manila attacks, say authorities. Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, has been charged in the bombings in absentia and is being interrogated by U.S. officials after his arrest in Thailand.

Al-Ghozi was sentenced to 10 to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty on a separate charge of explosives possession. He led Philippine police to a ton of dynamite that officials say had been intended for attacks in Singapore on Western targets, including the U.S. Embassy.

He also is suspected in the Aug, 1, 2000, bombing of the residence of Philippine Ambassador Leonides Caday in Jakarta that killed two persons.

Army Maj. Gen. Generoso Senga said Al-Ghozi was killed yesterday evening in Pigkawayan town, in North Catabato province, in a shootout with military and police.

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