Philippine marines kill 7 suspected al-Qaida-linked militants in coastal raid

By Jim Gomez, AP
Sunday, March 7, 2010

Philippine marines kill 7 suspected militants

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine marines killed at least seven al-Qaida-linked militants Sunday in a raid on a coastal hide-out but failed to capture a Malaysian terror suspect long wanted by Washington, officials said.

Government forces, backed by intelligence from captured militants and U.S. military surveillance, have staged a series of offensives against the Abu Sayyaf extremist group in recent weeks — including one that killed a top commander last month.

Marines in rubber boats launched the latest raid Sunday on Laminusa Island off southern Sulu province, sparking two clashes that left seven militants — including two women — dead and wounded a marine, regional military commander Brig. Gen. Rustico Guerrero said.

Malaysian militant Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, and Abu Sayyaf commander Abu Benhur are believed to have escaped with other fleeing militants, Guerrero said.

“They may have escaped but we’re pursuing them. This campaign will be relentless,” he told The Associated Press by telephone.

Marines recovered 15 assault weapons abandoned by the militants in a rural tangle of huts on stilts, he said.

The United States has offered a $5 million reward for the capture of Marwan, a U.S.-trained Malaysian engineer who has been accused by Philippine authorities of involvement in a number of deadly bombings in the country.

Marwan has alleged links to several Southeast Asian terrorist groups with al-Qaida ties. The U.S. State Department says he is believed to be a leader of the militant organization Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM) and a member of the central command of Jemaah Islamiyah, the al-Qaida affiliate blamed for numerous regional attacks, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings in Indonesia.

He is thought to have been living in the southern Philippines since 2003 and is accused of conducting explosives training for Abu Sayyaf militants there.

The Abu Sayyaf had at least 391 fighters as of December, down from 400 a year earlier due to battle casualties, according to a new military report. The militants have about 340 firearms on Jolo, the nearby island of Basilan and the Zamboanga Peninsula, it said.

The brutal group has been fighting for years to create an Islamic state in the predominantly Christian nation. The U.S. has blacklisted it as a terrorist organization because of deadly bombings, kidnappings and attacks targeting civilians, including Americans.

Last month, government forces killed Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad, a young, Sulu-based militant who has been accused of beheadings and high-profile kidnappings, including of three Red Cross workers from Switzerland, Italy and the Philippines. The three were freed last year, reportedly after payment of a large ransom.

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