Military hails militant leader's death as 'big blow' for militant group Abu Sayyaf
The Philippine military said on Monday that its killing of an Abu Sayyaf leader had inflicted a major blow on the al Qaeda-linked group. The military said it shot dead six militants on Jolo island on Sunday, including commander Albader Parad.
AFP - The Philippine military said Monday its killing of a "ruthless" Abu Sayyaf commander had inflicted a major blow on the Al-Qaeda-linked group, as it pursued his fellow militants on a remote island.
The military reported it shot dead six members of the Muslim militant network in the jungles of lawless Jolo island on Sunday, with high-profile leader Albader Parad among the victims.
"It is a big blow in the sense that he (Parad) is a very notorious and ruthless leader," Lieutenant General Benjamin Dolorfino, head of military forces in the south, told AFP by telephone.
"He always played a big role as far as the effectiveness and capability of the group is concerned, and the group always reflects the personality of the leader."
Parad, who was believed to be in his late 20s, made world headlines last year when he led an Abu Sayyaf cell that kidnapped and threatened to behead three Red Cross workers on Jolo.
The trio -- a Filipino, a Swiss and an Italian -- were released after many months.
The Abu Sayyaf was set up in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, according to the Philippine military, and has been blamed for the nation's worst terrorist attacks.
These include the bombing of a passenger ferry in Manila Bay that killed over 100 people in 2004, as well as many kidnappings of foreigners and Filipinos.
The Abu Sayyaf is fighting for an independent Muslim state in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic Philippines, and is infamous for staging kidnappings-for-ransom to raise funds.
Dolorfino said Sunday's killings, which occurred after the military acted on information provided by informants, gave hope that the Abu Sayyaf could finally be crushed.
"Without the leaders, the members will be directionless and, if no new leader emerges, they may crumble," said Dolorfino.
Dolorfino said the Abu Sayyaf was now believed to have only 330 fighters on Jolo, with another 61 on nearby Basilan island. This is down from a peak of about 1,200 fighters in 2002.
He said the military was pursuing Abu Sayyaf members in the jungles of Jolo on Monday in a bid to capitalise on the previous day's success, with Umbra Jumdail, one of the group's top two leaders, on its radar.
The reported eroding of the Abu Sayyaf's strength has coincided with US soldiers being stationed in the southern Philippines since late 2001 to help train local troops in how to battle the group.
However, supported by sympathetic locals and flush with funds from kidnappings, the Abu Sayyaf has shown a persistent ability to conduct attacks and its militants have killed dozens of Filipino soldiers in recent years.
A roadside bomb believed planted by the Abu Sayyaf also killed two US soldiers on Jolo in September last year.
Even in Sunday's clash, one Filipino soldier was shot dead and three others wounded, the military reported.
Nevertheless, Dolorfino insisted there were strong reasons aside from Sunday's military victory for believing the Abu Sayyaf could be becoming much weaker, chiefly that were no signs of significant new leaders emerging.
"We have not seen any new member who has the reputation of the current leaders. We have not seen any influential sub-leaders who might take the leadership when the current leaders are neutralised," he said.
The Philippine military said there was a US government bounty on Parad's head of between one and five million dollars.
A spokeswoman for the US embassy in Manila said no comment would be given about Parad's case until it received more details about Sunday's events.