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Abu Sayyaf chief dead: Philippine military

US forensic tests on a body found last month on the island of Jolo confirmed it was Khaddafy Janjalani, who had a $5 million bounty on his head.

india Updated: Jan 20, 2007 16:48 IST

The leader of the Philippines' fiercest Muslim militant group and the country's most wanted man is dead, military chief General Hermogenes Esperon said on Saturday.

He said US forensic tests on a body found last month on the island of Jolo confirmed it was Khaddafy Janjalani, chief of the Abu Sayyaf, who had a $5 million US bounty on his head.

Tissue from the decomposing body which could not initially be identified was taken to the United States for comparison with samples from Janjalani's brother.

"We hit the jackpot, there was a match in the DNA," Esperon told the agency. "We are sure it is Janjalani".

Esperon later told a news conference: "The armed forces of the Philippines is proud to announce we have neutralised the centre of gravity of terrorism in the Philippines."

Most of the Philippines' 85 million people are Catholic but a sizable Muslim minority lives mostly in the south of the country.

Several Muslim rebel groups operate there, but the Abu Sayyaf, which means "Bearer of the Sword", has links with regional militant networks and is the most violent.

US embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop said the forensic tests were authoritative. "It is confirmed the remains are of Khaddafy Janjalani, the tests show it was indeed him," he said.

Janjalani, 31, was on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's list of most wanted terrorists after being indicted by a US court for the kidnap and killing of American missionary Martin Burnham in 2002.

"I think it (Janjalani's death) is a very positive development for the Philippines and for the global war on terrorism," said Scott Harrison, Manila-based managing director of Pacific Strategic Assessments, a risk consultancy.

"It's not going to change the dynamics, it's not going to cause the Abu Sayyaf to collapse but it signals that the military are keeping up the pressure and running the Abu Sayyaf ragged on Jolo."

Captured militants who led troops to the buried body said Janjalani was mortally wounded in a gunbattle in September.

The test results capped a week of resounding success for the military against the Abu Sayyaf.

On Wednesday, the US trained troops claimed they had killed Jainal Antel Sali, alias Abu Sulaiman, one of its top five leaders, in a gunbattle. Ten militants were killed in another battle on Thursday, while several others have been killed in recent weeks.

About 70 Abu Sayyaf rebels have been killed in gunbattles since August 1, said Esperon, including eight prominent members.

Janjalani was said to be trying to take the group back to its Islamic fundamentalist roots. In recent years, Abu Sayyaf has developed links with the regional Jemaah Islamiah, which wants to set up an Islamic state across Southeast Asia.

At least 30 Indonesian members of Jemaah Islamiah, including two men suspected to be involved in the 2002 Bali bombings, are believed to be on Jolo along with about 400 Abu Sayyaf militants.

The Philippine military has about 7,000 men on Jolo and they are receiving training and intelligence from about 100 US special forces officers.

"Our troops would continue hunting down terrorists," Esperon told reporters. "We will clear Sulu (province) of terrorists and we will not allow them to thrive in any part of the Philippines."

Esperon said the next targets would be the two Indonesian militants wanted for the Bali bombings -- Dulmatin and Umar Patek -- and their protectors, Isnilon Hapilon and one-armed rebel leader Radullan Sahiron.

Abu Sayyaf is believed to have been responsible for a string of kidnappings, murders, acts of piracy and bomb blasts in the past 10 years, including the worst attack in the Philippines -- the February 2004 ferry bombing that killed more than 100 people.