January 17, 2007
MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- The top leader of an al Qaeda-linked Islamic extremist group has been killed in a two-hour gunbattle between the Philippine military and the Abu Sayyaf group, according to Philippines armed forces.
Spokesman Col. Bartolome Bacarro told CNN Wednesday that Jainal Antel Sali Jr., also known as Abu Solaiman, died in the shootout between about 60 Abu Sayyaf fighters and Philippine army special forces on Jolo Island in the country's south.
Secretary of Defense Eduardo Ermita said government operatives discovered his whereabouts, leading to the showdown. Two soldiers were wounded in the fighting, the military said, according to Reuters.
Solaiman and four other group leaders have been blamed in a series of kidnappings and killings across the Philippines.
"Solaiman was a professional, well trained and educated," Bacarro said. "It will be difficult for the Abu Sayyaf to find someone with the same leadership and technical abilities."
In 2002, the United States offered a reward of up to $5 million for the arrest or conviction of Solaiman and his associates following the kidnapping of three Americans, one of whom was killed, the year before.
Solaiman was also blamed for the Philippines' worst terror attack, the bombing of a ferry off Manila Bay in 2004 that killed 200 people.
Batara said the military was sure the dead man was Solaiman, but previous claims by the government that it had killed militants have sometimes been incorrect.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop congratulated the Philippine government, describing Solaiman's killing as "a major success," according to The Associated Press. However Reuters said the the embassy was still awaiting confirmation of the dead man's identity.
Buddy Recio, who was taken hostage along with his wife and son by the Abu Sayyaf for a week in 2001, said Solaiman provided an ideological inspiration to rebel recruits.
"His death means the loss of one master planner for the Abu Sayyaf," Recio told AP. "I remember we couldn't have small talk with that guy. It's always about business or their ideology."
Abu Sayyaf leaders remaining on the U.S. wanted listed are:
Amir Khadafi Abubaker Janjalani, a.k.a. Abu Muktar (Khadafi Montanio, Jimar Manalad)
Aldam Tilao, a.k.a. Abu Sabaya (Abu Ahmad Salayuddin)
Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, a.k.a. Abu Musab (The "Deputy," Abu Tuan)
Hamsiraji Marusi Sali, a.k.a. Jose Ramirez (Sitti Birkis, "Tiberkis")
Janjalani may be removed from the list soon. The Philippine government recently sent the remains of a body believed to be his to the FBI to confirm its identity.