MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine military said it killed three of Southeast Asia’s most-wanted terrorist leaders Thursday 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.
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.