Philippines claims top militant killed

The Philippines military says escaped Jemaah Islamiah bomb-maker Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi has been killed in a joint police-military operation in the country's south.

"It is confirmed, but details will follow," military vice chief-of-staff Lieutenant General Rodolfo Garcia said.

Al-Ghozi was serving a 17-year jail sentence for explosives possession when he escaped along with two Filipino Muslim Abu Sayyaf guerrillas militants from a jail inside the Manila police headquarters in July.

He has also confessed to taking part in a deadly string of bombings in Manila in December 2000 that killed 22 people.

Authorities say he planned the bombings along with Hambali, also known as Riduan Isamuddin, JI's operations chief who is now in US custody.

His escape had triggered a security alert in South-East Asia, with experts warning that Indonesian al-Ghozi, who is adept at languages, could easily plot a fresh wave of bombings.

The report of al-Ghozi's death comes just days before US President George W Bush is to visit Manila as a goodwill gesture for Philippine leader Gloria Arroyo's staunch support of the US-led war on terror.

Lt-Gen Garcia says al-Ghozi was killed late last night near the town of Pigkawayan in southern Cotabato province.

He says other details of the operation cannot yet be disclosed.

Military officials have in the past week said they had been on the trail of al-Ghozi after one his fellow fugitives, Abu Sayyaf member Omar Lasal Opik was arrested last Wednesday.

The other Abu Sayyaf rebel, Abdulmukin Edris, was killed after he fought off arresting security forces in early August.

Ms Arroyo has been under severe pressure to recapture al-Ghozi ahead of Mr Bush's visit on October 18, with the US leader expected to boost bilateral cooperation on terrorism.

Using various aliases including Randy Ali, Abu Saad and Edris Anwar Rodin, al-Ghozi opened bank accounts in the Philippines from which Hambali funnelled thousands of dollars to Filipino rebel operatives to procure explosives.

Al-Ghozi has operated in the Philippines for some time, with the military saying he recruited members of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) MILF to help him carry out the Manila bombings in 2000.

The 12,500-strong MILF is the country's largest Muslim separatist group and is set to open talks with the Philippines government.

It has denied any links with al-Ghozi and with JI.

12/10/2003

Bron : ABC News Online

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