- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

MANILA — Police stormed a maximum-security jail taken over by al Qaeda-linked terrorists today, killing at least 17 inmates in a raid that began with a barrage of tear-gas canisters and bullets.

Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes said the dead included at least three leaders of the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group, including the two men who headed a botched escape attempt yesterday that left another five persons dead.

“We have taken control of all the floors,” Metro Manila Police Chief Avelino Razon quoted the ground commander as saying less than an hour after the operation began.

Sporadic gunfire could still be heard, however, as police said they were conducting mop-up operations. At least five police officers involved in the assault were wounded.

“There were so many people, they were hiding in their cells,” said Napoleon Cabrera, a police officer who led one of the assault teams.

“Some were firing pistols, some were yelling because of the tear gas smoke,” he said, adding that he got in a firefight with one rebel. “I was hit in the leg. But I know he fell down.”

The raid began after authorities gave the inmates a 15-minute deadline to surrender — an ultimatum that came after hours of fruitless negotiations with them.

Some detainees were seen scaling down the walls inside the compound as thick smoke billowed out. A police helicopter hovered and ambulances waited for casualties.

The inmates had agreed to surrender after their failed jailbreak yesterday, but the deal broke down when they demanded food first, prompting civilian negotiators to leave in frustration.

The jail was holding about 425 suspects, including 129 suspected members and leaders of the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group. It is notorious for deadly bombings and ransom kidnappings in which some hostages were beheaded.

Mr. Reyes said that among the dead this morning were three Abu Sayyaf leaders: Alhamzer Manatad Limbong, known as Kosovo; Ghalib Andang, known as Commander Robot; and Nadzmie Sabtulah, alias Commander Global. All three have been accused of involvement in mass kidnappings and other terror acts.

After speaking with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Mr. Reyes said, “She is congratulating the forces involved for a job well done, but she lamented there were … casualties, but this is something that cannot be avoided.

“We don’t shoot innocent people. They were armed, they fired at us and we fired back,” he said.

The crisis began when suspected Abu Sayyaf members overpowered and stabbed their guards, then took their pistols and ammunition, Razon said. A shootout ensued.

Police spokesman Leopoldo Bataoil said about 10 men were involved in the uprising, led by Limbong and Kair Abdul Gapar, a kidnap-for-ransom suspect.

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