REPORTING FROM SEOUL -– Three high-level leaders from an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist network have been killed in a dawn raid in the southern Philippines that officials have termed a significant strike against the armed and deadly insurgency groups there.
Philippines military officials said the men -– from Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore –- belonged to the groups Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah, which for years have directed terror killings, bombings and kidnappings from their southern island jungle stronghold.
The dead include Abu Sayyaf leader Umbra Jumdail, a Filipino; Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan; and Singaporean Abdullah Ali, who uses the guerrilla name Muawiyah, according to military spokesman Col. Marcelo Burgos.
Marwan, a top leader of the Indonesian-based terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah, carried a $5-million bounty for his killing or arrest -– a reward offered by the U.S. government.
Since the 1990s, U.S.-backed Philippines patrols have captured or killed hundreds of Abu Sayyaf fighters. But officials said the most recent deaths could turn the tide in the ongoing warfare in the lawless southern Philippines.
For two decades, the network of Islamic terrorist groups has waged war against the government of the predominantly Christian Philippine archipelago, using the jungle as cover to train recruits and organize strikes.
Moving through the dense terrain, the outmanned but highly mobile Muslim rebel armies have staged repeated disappearing acts that often baffle Philippine government forces.
Just when authorities think the insurgents are on the run, they resurface to detonate a bomb, abduct a hostage or conduct a public execution, leaving citizens continually on edge.
Since 2002, hundreds of attacks have killed 500 people and injured 2,000 in the southern islands of Mindanao, Jolo, Basilan and Tawi Tawi.
In Zamboanga City, pedestrians can stand on a downtown street corner and point to half a dozen bomb sites: a cinema, a mall, churches, department stores and a barbecue supply store.
Sometimes, the killings come on successive days -- random killings, car and motorcycle bombs -- forcing residents to avoid congregating in groups or, for the most fearful, venturing out at all.
-- John M. Glionna
Photo: Philippines military spokesman Col. Marcelo Burgos shows a photo of Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, a top terrorist leader, at a news conference Thursday in Quezon City, north of Manila. Credit: Pat Roque / Associated Press