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Philippine Troops Shoot Abu Sayyaf Leader - 2002-06-21

An Abu Sayyaf leader is believed to have been shot in a fight with Philippine troops, but officials have yet to confirm if he was killed in the encounter. Abu Sabaya is accused of leading a band that kidnapped dozens of people, including an American missionary and a Philippine nurse killed recently in a battle with government troops. Kara Magsanoc Alikpala has the details from Manila.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo says Abu Sayyaf members and Philippine troops clashed early Friday morning, off the coast of Zamboanga del Norte. The rebels were in a boat that fired on Philippine troops patrolling the area in the southern Philippines.

General Melchor Rosales, a military spokesman, explained what happened, saying "there were seven Abu Sayyaf members who were in that encounter, and we captured four of the Abu Sayyaf members. They confirmed that Abu Sabaya was one of those who was inside the boat and that he was hit. However, we have not recovered the body."

Three rebels apparently were shot in the fight, and jumped from the boat into the water. Divers are searching for the wounded men as troops chase other rebels who escaped. There are no reported military casualties.

Abu Sabaya led the kidnapping of 20 hostages at an island resort last year. Some hostages escaped or were released after paying ransom. The militant group Abu Sayyaf killed others.

During rescue operations for the last remaining hostages two weeks ago, nurse Ediborah Yap and American missionary Martin Burnham were killed. Mr. Burnham's wife, Gracia, was wounded but was rescued.

Abu Sabaya was the most prominent Abu Sayyaf leader. He often spoke to local and foreign media about his demands, and taunted the Philippine government.

U.S. officials say American troops provided surveillance and communications support for the encounter but were not involved in the fighting. More than 1,000 U.S. troops and advisers have been in the southern Philippines since February to train with Philippine soldiers in fighting terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.

The Abu Sayyaf claims to be fighting for a Muslim nation in the southern Philippines and has vague links to the al-Qaida network of terrorists. However, the group has become best known for kidnapping people for ransom.