MANILA, Philippines—Bouncing back from the humiliation it suffered in the hands of a lone hostage-taker in Manila, the Philippine National Police killed an Abu Sayyaf commander and two of his men in an assault on the bandits’ hideout in Sulu at the weekend.
Concerned about possible retaliatory attacks by the bandit group, PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa Sunday immediately placed all police units in Mindanao on full alert.
Police identified the bandit commander killed in a 15-minute gunbattle at midnight Saturday in Maimbung, Sulu, as Gafur Jumdail, a younger brother of top Abu Sayyaf operative Umbra Jumdail, for whose capture the United States has offered a $100,000 bounty.
The two others killed in the clash were believed to be the sons of Umbra Jumdail, according to Supt. Jose Bayani Gucela, spokesperson of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operation (DIPO) in Western Mindanao.
Several Abu Sayyaf gunmen were believed wounded in the battle, police said. No government casualties were reported.
As members of the police Special Action Force (SAF) and other units raided the house, about 20 other Abu Sayyaf members armed with rifles and grenade launchers opened fire from nearby, sparking the gunbattle.
The bodies of Gafur Jumdail and his two followers were found in the house, police said. The raiders said they recovered three high-powered firearms and a “cache of ammunition and subversive documents.”
Gafur had been accused of several high-profile abductions, including the January 2009 kidnappings of three Red Cross workers from Switzerland, Italy and the Philippines.
A former member of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Gafur was also linked with the 2008 abduction of ABS-CBN reporter Ces Drilon, her two crewmen, and peace advocate Octavio Dinampo. They were later released unharmed.
The police launched Saturday’s attack in an attempt to arrest the elder Jumdail and Zulkifli bin Hir (also known as Marwan), a Malaysian said to belong to the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) group based in Southeast Asia and wanted by Washington for alleged terrorist involvement, according to a police report.
But there were no signs of Marwan or the elder Jumdail during the assault, police said.
Marwan is a US-trained engineer accused by Filipino authorities of involvement in deadly bombings in the Philippines. The United States has offered a $5-million reward for Marwan’s capture.
“I have declared a full alert status of all PNP units and offices in the whole of Mindanao ... against possible retaliatory terrorist acts of the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group),” Verzosa said in a message relayed to field units.
Verzosa also ordered Mindanao police units to “increase vigilance and security of vital installations, including airports, seaports, churches, public and other places of convergence, as well as possible targets of retaliatory or terrorist actions.”
He directed all units to “intensify intelligence and preemptive actions to counter or preempt related enemy plans/actions.”
The Maimbung assault occurred 12 days after the Aquino administration and the PNP suffered worldwide ridicule for the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists on a bus seized by dismissed police Senior Insp. Rolando Mendoza.
The sacked officer was also killed in the 11-hour drama at Manila’s Rizal Park.
The killing of the three bandits on Saturday was the latest blow to the Abu Sayyaf, a group linked by the United States to the worldwide al-Qaida terror network.
On Sept. 3, another Abu Sayyaf leader, Jul Ahmad Ahadi was arrested in Jolo. Ahadi is facing charges of kidnapping for the abduction of Jehovah’s Witness members in August 2002.
Washington has blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization and deployed hundreds of troops in Western Mindanao to train and arm Filipino soldiers battling the bandit gang.
The bandit group, which has about 400 gunmen in Jolo and outlying islands, has been blamed for the Philippines’ worst bomb attacks, kidnapping sprees and for beheading some of its hostages, including an American tourist, who was decapitated in 2001.
It was held responsible for the bombing of a ferry on Manila Bay in 2004 that killed more than 100 people.
Hiding in Mindanao
Marwan is believed to have been hiding with the Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao for years.
The US state department says Marwan is believed to be a leader of the militant organization Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia and a member of the central command of Jemaah Islamiyah, the al-Qaida affiliate blamed for numerous regional attacks, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings in Indonesia.
The slain Jumdail had denied involvement in the kidnapping of the ABS-CBN crew, and said the media had given him and his group free exposure and made them popular in Sulu, and even the whole world.
Another brother, Abdulhan Jumdail, was killed in a clash with the military in February this year, along with bandit leader Albader Parad.
Foreign and Filipino defense analysts say the Jemaah Islamiyah has in recent years infiltrated the ranks of the Abu Sayyaf, and that up to 30 foreign militants trained with the group until last year.
Apart from Marwan, top JI militants Dulmatin and Umar Patek were also believed to have trained with the Abu Sayyaf previously.
Dulmatin was killed by Indonesian police in March, but Patek remains at large somewhere in Mindanao. With reports from Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Inquirer Research