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Philippine Military Attacks Suspected Islamic Militants

  • Heda Bayron

The Philippine military has attacked suspected Islamic militant positions on reports of a meeting between senior members of two of Southeast Asia's most violent Islamic groups.

Philippine military officials say leaders of the local Muslim guerilla group, Abu Sayyaf and operatives from the regional terror network, Jemaah Islamiyah, were meeting in the marshlands of Maguindanao province.

Military spokesman Colonel Franklin del Prado says air force helicopters and airplanes bombed the area 900 kilometers south of the capital Manila, and were met by gunfire.

"We learned that these groups are there after cross-checking with reports coming from different intelligence agencies of our government," he said.

Military intelligence agents say the elusive Abu Sayyaf leader, Khadaffy Janjalani, and suspected Indonesian bomb maker, Dulmatin were among those present.

Indonesian Dulmatin is said to have escaped to the southern Philippine island of Mindanao after allegedly assembling the Jemaah Islamiyah bomb that killed more than 200 people in Bali in 2002. Khadaffy Janjalani is wanted by Philippine and U.S. authorities for kidnapping and murder, and a $5 million reward is offered for his capture.

Authorities and security analysts have raised concerns that the two Islamic terror groups would combine resources and launch attacks in Southeast Asia.

Colonel del Prado says the number of casualties has not been determined as soldiers have not yet penetrated the marshlands. The area also is home to the Philippines' main Muslim separatist group, the MILF. Renegade MILF commanders have been accused of training Indonesian militants.

The military also attacked the area in November after reports of a similar meeting, but failed to capture or kill those attending.

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