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Terror suspect escapes assault in Sulu

ZAMBOANGA -- A key Southeast Asian terror suspect in Mindanao escaped air and ground assault launched by the Philippine military on Sunday, but five of his comrades were killed, officials said.

The attack Sunday targeted the lair of Abu Sayyaf leader Umbra Jumdail, alias Doctor Abu Pula, in Mount Tukay, Karawan village, Indanan town in Sulu province, where primary target Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, was temporarily hiding.

Marwan and Jumdail, however, escaped along with two other Asian militants and dozens of Abu Sayyaf fighters, said Second Marine Brigade commander Brigadier General Romeo Tanalgo.

He said five Abu Sayyaf bandits, including three sub-leaders, were killed during the assault, which "was borne out of intelligence activities."

The slain bandit leaders were identified as Ben Wagas, Apo Mike and Abu Abad, while the followers killed in the attack were Said Madarang and a certain Andag.

"These offensives keep them on the run, disorganized and unable to plot attacks," military spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos said.

Washington has offered a $5 million reward for the capture or killing of Marwan, a US-trained Malaysian engineer long hunted by US and Philippine authorities for his alleged role in past terror attacks.

Marwan, who is believed to have provided bomb-making training and funds to Abu Sayyaf bandits for years, is a key associate of Indonesian militant Umar Patek, who was captured last January 25 in Pakistan's garrison town of Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was killed in a highly secretive US commando attack four months later.

Aside from Marwan and Jumdail, the troops in Sulu were also after Singaporean militant Muhammad Ali Bin Al Rahman, also known as Muawiya, and an Indonesian who has been identified only as Qayyim.

Both Muawiya and Qayyim are believed to be affiliated with the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah, officials said.

Jumdail has given refuge to the foreign militants in his jungle encampment for years, said Sulu police operations chief Amil Baanan.

New intelligence indicated that the three terror suspects have been hiding in the heavily forested Karawan hinterland with about 30 Abu Sayyaf militants, prompting the military to order the assaults.

After the assault, Marines found three rifles, a pistol and camouflage uniforms that were abandoned by the militants.

"The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) has pooled its assets for the conduct of this operation right into the terrorist lair at sunrise. The ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) camp is situated in the jungles of Indanan," Tanalgo said.

"What we are doing is part of our mandate in defeating the ASG and JI as embodied in the AFP Internal Peace and Security Plan Bayanihan," he added.

He said the group of Jumdail and Marwan has standing warrants of arrest for various atrocities they have committed in the past.

He said the group was responsible for the series of bombing, extortion and kidnapping incidents in the province of Sulu, specifically the 2009 International Committee of the Red Cross personnel and 2008 kidnapping of Rosalie Lao, a trader.

Tanalgo assured that the military will exert all efforts to protect the people of Sulu and its future generations from the perils of Abu Sayyaf.

US-backed Philippine offensives have considerably weakened the Abu Sayyaf, one of at least four Muslim insurgent groups operating in the south.

About 380 of its fighters remain at large in the jungles of Jolo island in Sulu, an impoverished Muslim region about 950 kilometers south of Manila, and in nearby Basilan and outlying islands.

The militants have turned to kidnappings for ransom for survival and are believed to be holding a number of hostages, including an American, two Malaysians, an Indian and a Japanese. (Bong Garcia/AP/Sunnex)

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