Saturday, February 04, 2012

Military ready for JI, Sayyaf reprisal

MANILA, Philippines - The military is preparing for possible retaliation from terrorists in the wake of an air strike in Sulu last Thursday that left three terror leaders and 12 of their followers dead.

Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command chief Maj. Gen. Noel Coballes said their troops had been alerted about the possible repercussion of their operations against the militants, believed to be members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG).

“Actually, we’ve alerted all our troops with regard to that even before the execution of the plan. We have informed our commanders about the probable repercussion or probable retaliation of the other groups,” he said.

Coballes, however, said it remains uncertain if terrorists are really planning to stage attacks to avenge the deaths of their comrades.

“We cannot say that they will do that but we have already prepared for any probable retaliation,” he said.
AFP spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said some militants survived last Thursday’s air raid. Some of the survivors were Malaysian members of the JI who entered the Philippines last December.

“Right now they (survivors) are disorganized. They are on the run. They are subjects of our operations,” Burgos said.

Burgos said last Thursday’s operation targeted 30 terrorists. Eight of the 30 militants are believed to be members of the JI, which has links to international terror cell al-Qaeda. 

Two Air Force OV-10 planes with night flying capability launched the attack at around 3 a.m. on Barangay Duyan Kabau in Parang town. Officials said the terrorists were caught by surprise as they may have been asleep during the attack.

Burgos said they will validate the identities of the slain terrorists through DNA tests. He, however, admitted that the military has yet to secure the bodies of the militants.

“We are still finding the bodies but we already know their location. We have to coordinate with the relatives,” he said. “(We are not) in possession (of the bodies) right now. We already have their locations. That area is an MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) territory.”

Burgos, however, maintained that they have validated the identities of 11 of the 15 slain terrorists.

“We have assets in the area so we already have the confirmation,” he said. Burgos said they expect members of the MNLF to help in coordinating with the families of the slain militants.

“We are expecting cooperation from MNLF. This is an endeavor to be done in cooperation with civilian authorities,” he said.

Blow to al-Qaeda

For AFP chief Lt. Gen. Jessie Dellosa, the al-Qaeda has suffered a major setback with the killing of the JI and ASG leaders in Parang, Sulu on Thursday.

“Their loss was a big blow to their operation. They have lost their strength,” Dellosa said, stressing that the slain terror leaders were the “center of their gravity.”

“They controlled their people. Their killings caught the terror groups off balance,” Dellosa said in Filipino.
US embassy deputy chief of mission Leslie Basset also called the military operation “a very serious blow against transnational terrorism.”

Reported killed in the pre-dawn air strike were JI leaders Zulkipli bin Abdul Hir alias Marwan, Muhamda Ali alias Muawiya and Muin Khalid, and Abu Sayyaf leader Gumbali Jumdail alias Dr. Abu Pula.

The air strike killed 12 other terrorists, the military said.

Also killed in the raid were Indonesian JI members known only as Saad and Hajan.

The slain Abu Sayyaf members include Abdulla Aziz, brother-in-law of Marwan, Ben Wagas, Haiji Tatti, close aide of Dr. Abu Pula, Muammar, Apo Mike, Abu Daud, Tuan Nas, alias Ainal, and a certain Sissan, a religious leader from Basilan.

The military said there was no doubt Abu Sayyaf and JI leaders and operatives were killed in the pre-dawn raid last Thursday.

“The assets were very credible. But I don’t want to elaborate the exact details. The target is very accurate,” Dellosa said.

Sulu 1st district Rep. Tupay Loong said there was “talk among the civilians in the area” regarding the deaths of the ASG and JI leaders, including foreigners.

He said considering the operation was done while it was still dark, the remains of the slain terror leaders might have been carried away and buried by their comrades according to Muslim beliefs.

Loong said he has yet to get word from the mayor of Parang, who is his nephew, on the extent of the military operation and its effect on the area.

“If that will address national issue as far as security is concerned, that is good… we have to congratulate the AFP,” Loong said.

Coballes said the JI is joining forces with other Islamic extremist groups to expand its presence and operations in Mindanao.

He also said they have received reports that 30 terrorists, including six foreign JI militants, arrived in Sulu last December. This led the military to hatch “Oplan Nemesis” aimed at neutralizing the militants.

“It was a high level planning which involved several options,” Coballes said. He said no ground troops took part in the operation to ensure an element of surprise as well as avoid or minimize casualties.

He said other armed groups, including the MNLF, operate around the target site.

He said OV-10 bronco planes with night flying capability took part in the raid.

Meanwhile, the US embassy’s Basset said they are leaving to the expertise of the military the task of identifying the remains of the slain terrorist leaders before deciding on the release of the bounties for the capture or neutralization of the terrorist leaders.

Marwan, considered one of the top JI leaders in Southeast Asia following the capture of Umar Patek in Pakistan, has a $5-million reward on his head.

Muawiya carries a $50,000 reward and Dr. Abu Pula, $140,000.

“We have yet to confirm the identities first and then work from there and take that step working on (the rewards),” Basset said when asked about the rewards for the neutralization of the terrorists.

Basset was in Zamboanga City to relay the gratitude of the US government and the family of the American kidnap victims – mother and son Gerfa Yeatts Lunsman and Kevin Eric – to Mayor Celso Lobregat for his role in their recovery.

Mrs. Lunsman was freed in October while her son escaped in December.
By Alexis Romero and Roel PareƱo
The Philippine Star
February 04, 2012 12:00 AM

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