Top Abu leader escapes military dragnet

By Roel Pareño

ZAMBOANGA CITY — Elusive Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khadaffi Janjalani has escaped a military dragnet in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat, and is reportedly hiding somewhere else in Mindanao, a military official said.

Most of of Janjalani’s henchmen who landed with him in Palimbang are still holed up somewhere in the forested mountains near the town, said Brig. Gen. Alexander Yano, Army 601st Brigade commander.

Yano said troops are tracking them down. Yano declined to divulge Janjalani’s possible location but assured that all efforts were being done to capture the elusive leader.

"There are reports that Janjalani is somewhere and troops are tracking him down," Yano said. "But substantial number of his group is still holed out in the area of Palimbang."

There were reports earlier that Janjalani and his followers were hiding with members of the notorious kidnap-for-ransom group Pentagon gang near Palembang.

In early July, Janjalani and 70 of his men were spotted by local villagers landing near the shore of Palimbang town, about 200 kilometers from this city.

Troops found three motor boats used by the bandits to cross the sea from the Zamboanga peninsula and escape a military dragnet there.

The military dispatched about a thousand soldiers to scour the Palimbang coast and the forested interior for Janjalani. Navy vessels and helicopter gunships were also sent to the area to prevent him from escaping by sea.

Military efforts to crush the Abu Sayyaf were stepped up in June after the bandits beheaded two men and a woman in Sibulao, a village near Zamboanga City.

Janjalani is one of five top Abu Sayyaf leaders wanted by the US government in connection with the 2001 kidnappings of a group of tourists, including American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham and Peru-born Guillermo Sobero.

Washington offered a bounty of up to $5 million for their capture. One of the leaders, Aldam Tilao alias Abu Sabaya, was reported killed by the military in an offshore clash with crack troops in June 2002.

Sobero was beheaded shortly after the abduction, while Martin Burnham was killed in a military rescue attempt in June last year, in which a Filipina nurse, Edibora Yap, was also killed.

Burnham’s wife, Gracia, was rescued by Filipino troops who had received training from US special forces military advisers deployed on the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Basilan, a few kilometers from this city.

The Abu Sayyaf is known mainly for kidnapping foreigners and Christians in Mindanao and then holding them for hefty ransom payments. They have also beheaded poor hostages who could not pay ransom.

The group has been loosely linked to the al-Qaeda network of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden by both Washington and Manila.

About 1,000 US troops were deployed on Basilan last year to train Filipino soldiers. The two countries are due to hold a second round of exercises later this year in Sulu, another Abu Sayyaf stronghold.


Bron : Philippine Star

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