Al-Qaida-linked leader dies

Abu Sayyaf chief in Philippines killed in military raid on hide-out

January 18, 2007|By Paul Watson and Al Jacinto | Paul Watson and Al Jacinto,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines -- A militant leader linked to al-Qaida and wanted in the beheading of a tourist from California has been killed in a jungle battle, the Philippine army announced yesterday.

The military first reported that it had wounded Jainal Antel Sali Jr., also known as Abu Solaiman, on Tuesday when special forces raided an Abu Sayyaf militant group hide-out on Jolo Island, about 600 miles south of Manila.

But Sali, also wanted in the kidnapping of two American missionaries, was later confirmed dead at a news conference in Manila at which the chief of the armed forces, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, showed photographs of the corpse.

"We have resolved that this group and their major commanders must be finished off, that this notorious group should see its end," he said.

Sali was buried yesterday on Jolo Island after relatives and friends identified the body. He had the hole of a soldier's bullet in his chest and a piece of wood, about an inch long, embedded in his left cheek. It was pulled out by two imams hired by the military to clean and bury the corpse in accordance with Muslim customs.

"It was him, all right. It was Abu Solaiman," said Karim Muktar, a former Muslim rebel-turned-government soldier. "His time finally has come and it's the end of the road for Solaiman."

Sali, a 42-year-old native of Zamboanga who was a qualified civil engineer, commanded an Abu Sayyaf unit called the urban terrorist group, blamed for a series of bombings in the southern Philippines. He was also an Abu Sayyaf spokesman.

Sali was on the FBI's list of "Most Wanted Terrorists" and the State Department offered a reward of up to $5 million for his capture. He was indicted by a U.S. court in 2002 on charges including the murder of an American outside the U.S. and kidnapping resulting in death, the FBI said.

Guillermo Sobero, 40, of Corona, Calif., had been beheaded after he was kidnapped along with American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kansas, and 17 Filipinos from a southern Philippines island resort in May 2001.

Sobero's torso was found about two weeks after his abduction. Abu Sayyaf, which says it is fighting to establish Islamic rule in the southern Philippines, said it had executed him.

The Burnhams and other hostages were held for more than a year, during which they were constantly on the move in forced marches through the jungle. Martin Burnham was killed in June 2002 when Philippine commandos launched a rescue mission. Gracia Burnham was wounded in the leg but survived. A Filipina nurse also died along with several soldiers and guerrillas.

Gracia Burnham released a statement yesterday after the death of Sali.

"Based on the six months I had close contact with Solaiman during our year of captivity, I would say he was the most dangerous of the Abu Sayyaf leaders because he was filled with hate," she said in the statement, reported by the Associated Press.

"Martin and Solaiman had long talks about their beliefs and beliefs in general while we were in the jungle, so today my heart is filled with sadness for Solaiman because his next step is to face almighty God to be judged."

Paul Watson and Al Jacinto write for the Los Angeles Times.

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