June 22, 2002, The China Post, Top Abu Sayyaf leader slain in southern Philippines,
A senior leader of a group of al-Qaida linked Muslim rebels who kidnapped three Americans was killed Friday during a high seas shootout, the Philippines military said.
Abu Sabaya, spokesman of the notorious Abu Sayyaf Muslim kidnapping group, was slain along with two of his men in a clash with an elite Navy Special Warfare Group (SWAG) unit before dawn, military officials said.
Four other gunmen were arrested after the navy sunk their boat off the coastal town of Sibuco on Mindanao island, the military added.
Officials, however, backtracked on earlier statements that they had already recovered Sabaya’s body from the sea after the vessel sank during the gunbattle.
But regional military chief Major General Ernesto Carolina said that one of the SWAG members confirmed that he shot Sabaya dead from a few meters away after Sabaya fell into the water during the clash.
President Gloria Arroyo said Carolina had informed her of Sabaya’s death and hailed the military “for their continuing determination and tenacity to finish off the Abu Sayyaf.”
Arroyo said the news of Sabaya’s death was relayed to US President George W. Bush and stressed that he was pleased at the progress being made in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf.
She added that the operation to finish off the kidnap-for-ransom group would continue, adding, the Philippine’s campaign against terror was not yet over.
“Terrorists will be hunted down relentlessly wherever they are, in the fastness of the jungle or on the high seas. They will be given no room to maneuver, to hide or to rest. We will not stop until they are all accounted for.”
Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said that US technical surveillance had been key in pinpointing Sabaya’s group and that the clash was “a planned operation” and not a chance encounter.
The death of Abu Sabaya — born Aldam Tilao — could prove a major blow to the Muslim rebels who have terrorized the Philippines and a swathe of the South China Sea since mid-2000 with their kidnap-for ransom campaign.
The clash marked a fiery end for the 40 year-old Abu Sabaya, the highest-profile leader and spokesman of the gang which has defied a manhunt by 5,000 Filipino troops, many of them trained by US military advisers who arrived in January.
Officials said they recovered Sabaya’s backpack, his signature dark glasses and the satellite phone he used make calls to local radio stations where he taunted the government and boasted of his killings.
Hours after the fatal clash US aircraft airdropped leaflets over Abu Sayyaf strongholds, repeating offers of as much as five million dollars for information leading to the capture of other senior Abu Sayyaf leaders, said Major Richard Sater, spokesman for the US military contingent in the south.
Two weeks ago a military task force rescued U.S. hostage Gracia Burnham near Sibuco town, but her American husband and fellow Christian missionary, Martin Burnham, and a Filipina captive, nurse Ediborah Yap, were slain in the fighting on June 7.
The Burnhams were among a group of tourists captured from a Philippine resort in May 2001. A third American tourist, Peru-born Guillermo Sobero, was later beheaded by the kidnappers along with about a dozen other captives.