Gunfight in Philippine bomber hunt

JOLO, Philippines (CNN) -- Philippine soldiers say they have killed three members of the Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiyah who had been helping to protect an escaped bomber.

The three died during a gunfight with government forces in the south of the country, military spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero said.

Six soldiers were also wounded in the battle.

The Jemaah Islamiyah I gunmen were part of a group protecting the escaped prisoner, Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, a self-confessed JI terrorist, Lucero said.

Anti-terrorism experts say JI has close ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and was behind a series of attacks in Southeast Asia, including last October's bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Investigators say it is also increasingly likely that JI was behind last week's deadly car bombing outside the J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown Jakarta.

Sunday's gunfight happened near the town of Sultan Naga-Dimaporo in the southern Philippine province of Lanao del Norte.

There are conflicting reports about Al-Ghozi's whereabouts and Lucero could not confirm or deny reports that he had been killed.

Al-Ghozi, along with two suspected Abu Sayyaf members, escaped from prison in July, police said.

He was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to more than 10 years in jail after pleading guilty to the illegal possession of explosives

According to intelligence agencies Al-Ghozi was the link between local Muslim militants in four Southeast Asian nations and the al Qaeda terror network, traveling frequently between Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore for JI.

According to intelligence and testimony he has made, Al-Ghozi has admitted to being behind several bombings in the southern Philippines.

He is also thought to be behind the December 2000 bomb attack on a commuter train in Manila, which killed more than a dozen people and injured scores of others.

-- Journalist Cecilia Lazaro in Jolo contributed to this report


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