Pat Roque, Associated Press
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine military said it killed three of Southeast Asia's most-wanted terrorist leaders in a U.S.-backed airstrike that significantly weakens an al-Qaida-linked network that had used islands in the southern Philippines as a hideout and training base.
The dawn strike targeting a militant camp on a remote island killed at least 15 people, including Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, a top leader of the regional Jemaah Islamiyah terror network, said military spokesman Col. Marcelo Burgos.
The U.S. had offered a $5 million reward for the capture of Marwan, a U.S.-trained engineer accused of involvement in deadly bombings in the Philippines and in training militants.
Also killed Thursday were the leader of the Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf militants, Umbra Jumdail, and a Singaporean leader in Jemaah Islamiyah, Abdullah Ali, who used the guerrilla name Muawiyah, Burgos said. Police recovered the bodies, which were "positively identified by police and our intelligence informants at the site," Burgos said.
However, two Philippine security officials with knowledge of the airstrike told The Associated Press that Marwan's body was not found, though bombs shattered the house where he was believed to have been.
They said the body of Jumdail, also known as Dr. Abu Pula, was buried Thursday. One of the officials said the dead included Jumdail's son, also an Abu Sayyaf fighter.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
A U.S. official in Washington confirmed the strike on Jolo Island, an impoverished region 600 miles south of Manila, and said the Pentagon provided assistance in one of the region's most successful anti-terror operations in years. The strike debilitated a regional militant network that has relied on the restive southern Philippines — sometimes called Southeast Asia's Afghanistan — as a headquarters for planning bombings and a base for training and recruitment.
About 30 militants were at the camp near Parang town on Jolo, the stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf and their allies from the mostly Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah, when it was bombarded by two OV10 aircraft dropping 500-pound bombs at 3 a.m., regional military commander Maj. Gen. Noel Coballes said.
"Our report is there were at least 15 killed, including their three leadership," he said. "This is a deliberate, fully planned attack coming from our forces."
The rest of the militants escaped and no one was captured, Coballes said.
American counterterrorism troops have helped ill-equipped Filipino troops track Marwan for years using satellite and drone surveillance. About 600 U.S. special forces troops have been deployed in the southern Philippines since 2002, providing crucial support for the Philippines' counterterrorism operations. U.S.-backed Philippine offensives have been credited for the capture and killing of hundreds of Abu Sayyaf fighters and most top leaders since the 1990s.
In Washington, a U.S. official, speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record about the operation, confirmed the Pentagon had aided the strike. He was not specific about the contribution and did not know how many people had been killed in the operation.
Marwan's death would represent the most important success against Jemaah Islamiyah since the January 2011 arrest of Indonesian suspect Umar Patek in Pakistan's garrison town of Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. commando attack four months later.
Patek and Marwan allegedly collaborated with the Abu Sayyaf in training militants in bomb-making skills, seeking funding locally and abroad and plotting attacks, including against American troops in the southern Philippines.
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