By Girlie Linao –
MANILA, Philippines — Fifteen alleged members of militant groups linked to al-Qaida, including three suspected leaders, were killed Thursday in a pre-dawn airstrike on their hideout in the southern Philippines, military officials said.
Security forces bombed a known lair of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group in Parang town on Jolo Island, about 700 miles south of Manila, chief of staff Gen. Jessie Dellosa said.
Among those killed were Abu Sayyaf leader Umbra Jumdail, a Filipino, and two leaders of another militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, namely Zulkipli bin Hir, a Malaysian also known as Marwan, and Singaporean Abdullah Ali, alias Muawiyah.
The United States had offered a reward of $5 million for the capture or death of Marwan, and $50,000 for Muawiyah, who had both taken refuge with the Abu Sayyaf. The U.S. had also put up a reward of $140,000 for Jumdail.
The offensive aimed to prevent the militants from expanding their operations in the southern Philippines, said Maj. Gen. Noel Coballes, a regional military commander.
He said the military began planning the offensive after receiving information that 30 suspected terrorists, including six foreign Jemaah Islamiyah members, arrived in Jolo in December.
“Our operation was aimed at known members of the terrorist groups Abu Sayyaf and JI who are now expanding their presence in (the southern region of) Mindanao,” he said.
The Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah have been blamed for some of the worst terrorist attacks in the Philippines and South-East Asia. The Abu Sayyaf has also been blamed for high-profile kidnap-for-ransom cases involving foreign hostages.