Armed Forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon, top, orders Friday 24 Nov 2006 troops to intensify the hunt for Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya leaders in Jolo island. (Mindanao Examiner)
JOLO ISLAND (Mindanao Examiner / 24 Nov) – Philippine military chief General Hermogenes Esperon on Friday inspected troops in the strife-torn Jolo island and ordered security forces to capture the leaders of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and two Jemaah Islamiya bombers before Christmas.
The order came barely a day after policemen killed an alleged Abu Sayyaf gunman in a fire fight and captured two others in the village of Ayala in Zamboanga City late Thursday.
The fighting broke out after the militants attacked cops who were sent to arrest them. One militant was able to elude arrest, said Supt. Angelito Casimiro, chief of the regional police intelligence division.
"The militants were believed behind the spate of killings of policemen in Zamboanga and Jolo island the past months," he told the Mindanao Examiner in Zamboanga City.
In Jolo, Esperon also held a two-hour closed door meeting with senior military commanders in Jolo inside the tightly guarded headquarters of the Army's 104th Infantry Brigade.
Esperon did not give all details about the meeting, but said he discussed with other commanders the repositioning of troops involved in the Abu Sayyaf hunt on the island.
"We will reposition our forces to be more effective in the campaign against the terrorists. Told the troops to get the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiya before Christmas and intensify the operation against the terrorists," Esperon said in an interview.
He was referring to the Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani and Dulmatin and Umar Patek, both wanted by Indonesia for the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people and the 2003 JW Mariot hotel bombing in Jakarta.
The military also tagged the Abu Sayyaf group as behind last month's bombing of a police headquarters in Jolo island that wounded three people and the bombing in March of a Church-run cooperative store that left nine people dead and 20 injured in downtown Jolo.
The Philippine military is holding Dulmatin's wife, Indonesian Istiada Oemar Sovie and her two children. The woman and her two boys ages 6 and 8 were arrested after Filipino soldiers pursuing Dulmatin raided a terrorist hideout in Patikul town last month.
Esperon said the Abu Sayyaf is protecting Dulmatin and Patek in Jolo island. As many as 31 Jemaah Islamiya militants are believed hiding in the southern Philippines, particularly in Mindanao where other rebel groups are operating. (Mindanao Examiner)