Philippine military kills wanted Jemaah Islamiyah, Abu Sayyaf operatives in airstrike

The Philippine Air Force killed a senior Jemaah Islamiyah leader, a top Abu Sayyaf Group commander, and 13 others, including a wanted Singaporean terrorist, during an airstrike in Sulu province.

Zulkifli bin Hir, one of the most wanted leaders of the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah; Umbra Jumdail, a senior Abu Sayyaf commander, and his son Teng; and Muhamad Ali, another wanted JI operative, were all killed in the early morning today in an airstrike, according to the country’s top military commander.

Chief of Staff General Jessie Dellosa said the 3 a.m. airstrike targeted a camp in the village of Duyan Kabaw in Parang in the southern province of Sulu. Dellosa expressed certainty that the terrorist leaders had been killed even though the military was not in possession of the dead bodies.

“I am sure because I will not easily issue a statement here,” he said, according to Inquirer News. “We have intelligence people and locals in the area.”

A military spokesman said the strike, which was carried out by two OV-10 Broncos, light military attack aircraft used in counterinsurgency operations, was the result of months of intelligence gathering. Several 500-pound bombs were dropped on the terrorists’ camp. No civilians were reported to have been killed in the strike.

The operation was “based on a thorough, well-executed plan and months of continuous monitoring and surveillance of JI and ASG personalities,” Colonel Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr., a military spokesman, said during a briefing, Inquirer News reported. In early January, a senior general disclosed that the military was engaged in operations in Sulu hunting for Hir; Muhamad Ali; Qayim and Sa’ad, two Indonesians; and Amin Baco, who is thought to be a Malaysian national.

Although no US involvement in the strike has been reported, US Special Forces are based in the Philippines to aid the government and military in their fight against the al Qaeda-linked groups and to assist in humanitarian efforts. The Philippine constitution prohibits US troops from engaging in combat operations in the country.

Zulkifli bin Hir, a Malaysian national known as “Marwan,” is wanted by the US government, which has a $5 million reward out for information leading to his capture. Hir is “an engineer trained in the United States” and “is believed to be the head of the Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM) terrorist organization and a member of Jemaah Islamiyah’s central command,” according to the US State Department’s Rewards for Justice website. He is believed to have been sheltering in the Philippines since 2003 and has served as a bomb maker for the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Umbra Jumdail, a senior Abu Sayyaf Group commander who is also known as Doc Abu, is wanted by both the US government, which has offered a $140,000 reward for information leading to his capture, and the Philippine government. He has been involved in numerous kidnappings and assassinations.

Muhamad Ali, a Singaporean national also known as Mauwiya Anjala, is a Jemaah Islamiyah leader who is also wanted by the US, which has offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to his capture.

Jemaah Islamiyah is an Islamist terrorist group that seeks to establish a pan-Islamic state across Southeast Asia. Jemaah Islamiyah is most active in Indonesia and the Philippines, but also conducts operations in Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. The terror group is al Qaeda’s regional affiliate in Southeast Asia and its operatives have been responsible for devastating attacks in the region, including the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, the 2004 suicide car bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, the August 2003 car bombing of the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta, and a series of bombings in Manila.

The terror group has suffered major setbacks inside Indonesia, with many of its top leaders killed or captured over the past several years. Among them are Dulmatin, a top leader and military commander (killed in 2010); and Noordin Mohammed Top, a senior leader, recruiter, strategist, and fundraiser (killed in 2009). Umar Patek, a top JI leader, was captured in March 2010 in Abbottabad, Pakistan, just months before al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden was killed in the same city in a US special operations raid. Abu Bakir Bashir, the terror group’s founder, is currently in prison for founding, financing, and supporting al Qaeda in Aceh.

The Abu Sayyaf Group is a Philippines-based terrorist and criminal gang formed by fighters who returned from the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union. The group was funded and financed by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, one of Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-laws, according to Khaddafy Janjalani, the leader of Abu Sayyaf before he was killed in 2006. Khalifa, an al Qaeda financier and facilitator, was killed by US special operations forces in Madagascar in 2006.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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