Sayyaf leader Hapilon eludes arrest in Zamboanga dawn raid
- Roel Pareño () - July 29, 2002 - 12:00am
Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon eluded arrest after government forces launched a pre-dawn raid on his suspected hideout in the outskirts of Zamboanga City yesterday.

The raiding party consisted of troops from of the Military Intelligence Group-9 and Task Force Zamboanga, the Philippine National Police’s regional intelligence and investigation division and the Zamboanga City police’s mobile and special operations group.

Hapilon’s lair, located on a hill in Barangay San Roque, was "cased" for over two hours before heavily armed crack elements of the police and the military swooped down on it, but found nobody in the area.

Villagers said they saw armed strangers moving around in their community mostly at night and stayed in the nipa hut on the hill during the day.

Authorities believed that the armed men were tipped off on the impending raid, enabling them to vacate their safehouse before the raiders arrived.

Lt. Gen. Ernesto Carolina, commander of the Armed Forces’ Southern Command based in Zamboanga City, expressed optimism that the troops will eventually catch up with the remaining Abu Sayyaf leaders who were reportedly to have been constantly on the run because of a relentless search and destroy operations by the military.

Hapilon was one of five top Abu Sayyaf leaders wanted by the Philippine and United States government for acts of terrorism.

Both governments have raised reward money for the capture, dead or alive, of the five commanders of the Muslim extremist group that specialized in mass kidnapping for ransom.

Washington has also linked the Abu Sayyaf to the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, principal suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks in the US.

Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson said a federal grand jury in Washington handed up the five-count indictment against Abu Sayyaf spokesman Aldam Tilao alias Abu Sabaya; Khadafi Janjalani alias Abu Muktar who is considered as the group’s chieftain; Isnilon Totoni Hapilon alias Abu Musab, second in command and known as "the deputy;" Jainal Antel Sali Junior alias Abu Solaiman also known as "the engineer;" and Hamsiraji Marusi Sali alias Tiberkis and Jose Ramirez.

The indictment was made in connection with the May 27, 2001 kidnapping of three Americans from the posh Dos Palmas resort in Palawan, along with 17 Filipino guests and staff of the facility.

Two of the American hostages — Guillermo Sobero and Martin Burnham — were killed while in captivity. The third, Martin’s wife Gracia, was rescued but wounded in a military rescue operation last June in Zamboanga del Norte.

Tilao was perceived to have been killed last June 21 in a clash with elite Navy troops in the sea off Sibuco town in Zamboanga del Norte.

However, his remains were never recovered.

Carolina said they have limited Hapilon’s area of mobility, but admitted that they still have to confine him within a smaller area to lay down an effective dragnet to bag the terrorist leader.

Carolina refused to divulged further details to avoid prejudicing on-going operations.

"We are getting closer to them. We have not yet arrested them, but I will tell you that we are closing in," Carolina said, adding that similar operations were going on against the other top leaders of terrorist group.

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