Sayyaf leader’s son slain in Sulu clash

The son of Abu Sayyaf commander Radullan Sahiron was among three terrorists killed in the ongoing military offensive in Sulu, but government troops are still looking for two terror suspects wanted in the 2002 Bali bombings, officials said yesterday.

Ismin Sahiron, a son of the one-armed Abu Sayyaf commander, was killed in the four-day-old offensive in the jungles of Jolo, Sulu, said Col. Mohammad Nur Askalani, Armed Forces Southern Command acting chief of staff.

The father and son are among 14 Filipino terrorists on a US Defense Department list offering rewards for information leading to their capture.

The offensive targeted the top leaders of the Abu Sayyaf, an al-Qaeda-linked group notorious for kidnappings, beheadings and bomb attacks, and two Indonesians from the terror network Jemaah Islamiyah who are wanted for their alleged roles in the 2002 Bali bombings in Indonesia that killed 202 people.

Dulmatin, who goes by one name, and Umar Patek, were seen in Sulu recently with Abu Sayyaf leaders and about 200 terrorists, prompting the military to launch ground and air assaults.

The top Abu Sayyaf leaders sighted in Sulu included elusive chieftain Khaddafy Janjalani and Sahiron.

US troops, who are stationed in Sulu as part of counterterrorism assistance that is focused on humanitarian work, were providing intelligence and communications support, US and Filipino officials said.

After firing rockets from helicopter gunships last Thursday, troops pounded the rebels with artillery after they were seen moving on Mt. Tumatangis, near Indanan town, an extremist bastion, Askalani said.

"They were hit by artillery briefly to determine their possible reaction," he told The Associated Press. "After the bombardment, silence."

He said there has been no contact with the rebels since.

Officials said about 200 terrorists were "contained" in the vicinity of Indanan, sometimes splitting into smaller groups to elude troops.

"We are now studying the situation on the ground," Askalani said. "They are moving around and they are sometimes moving from behind us, like in hide-and-seek."

The operation was aided by informants, including members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which is now cooperating with the government, and by technical assistance from the US military, Askalani said.

Officials have said the offensive has killed at least three terrorists and wounded two others, while five soldiers have been wounded.

But Askalani said that during his visit to Indanan, military sources could only confirm the killing of Ismin Sahiron, who like his father, had an amputated arm.

It wasn’t clear why the discrepancy existed.

The US government has offered up to $10 million for the capture of Dulmatin and $1 million for Patek for their roles in the 2002 bombings in Bali which left more than 200 mostly foreign tourists dead.

Regional intelligence officials say Dulmatin, an electronics and bomb expert trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, is a senior JI member believed to have triggered the bombs.

Patek allegedly helped coordinate the attack.

Intelligence officials have said JI was building up links with Abu Sayyaf, considered a terrorist organization by the United States.

The Abu Sayyaf is also believed to have ties with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

At least seven Abu Sayyaf gunmen have been killed, while three others were wounded in the fresh encounter at the border of Barangay Kagay between the terrorists and government troops.

The fatalities have brought to 10 the number of terrorists killed and five others wounded.

The Southcom said two more soldiers were also slightly wounded, bringing to seven the number of troops who have been wounded since the offensive started Tuesday.

So far, government troops have not reported any fresh sightings of Janjalani and Dulmatin — the main target of the military offensive.

The military has combined efforts with the provincial health office,

Sulu Social Welfare and Development, the mayor of Indanan and Joint Special Operation Task Force in providing food and medical assistance to displaced civilians.

Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ben Dolorfino, Southern Command deputy chief for operations, said the MNLF has remained committed to assist the AFP in clearing their area, which is considered a "Peace Zone."

The MNLF has agreed to stop and capture any terrorist who will cross into the territory under its control, he added. — AP, AFP, Roel Pareño

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