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Bush Thanks the Philippines for Tracking, Killing Islamic Rebel Leader - 2002-06-22

President Bush Friday thanked Philippine President Gloria Arroyo for her army's tracking down and killing the leader of a rebel group who kidnapped Americans. The Philippine military says it killed the militant Islamic leader Abu Sabaya in a high-seas shoot-out.

President Bush says he appreciates President Arroyo's leadership and strength, calling the death of the rebel leader a "victory" in the fight against terrorism.

"The head of the group, this extreme group of killers, met his fate. And I want to congratulate the president of the Philippines," he said.

Abu Sabaya was a key leader of Philippine rebels who U.S. officials say have links with al-Qaida terrorists. He is believed to be one of those responsible for the kidnapping of an American missionary couple last year. Two weeks ago, government troops rescued the American woman, but her husband and a Philippine nurse were killed in the shootout.

Speaking to senior citizens in the state of Florida, Mr. Bush said Abu Sabaya's death shows that what he called "a vast coalition of freedom-loving countries" can work together and succeed in the fight against terrorism.

More than 1,000 U.S. troops are training Filipino soldiers who are fighting the rebels, but the American soldiers are currently barred from combat except in self-defense.