Jan 22, 2007
MANILA, Philippines (Reuters) -- A one-armed septuagenarian has become the top leader of the Philippines' deadliest Islamic militant group after the killing of its chieftain and the main tactician, the military said on Monday.
Radullan Sahiron is worshipped as a folk-hero on the islands of Jolo and Basilan, the strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf group, Lieutenant-General Romeo Tolentino told Reuters.
"If our troops would get Sahiron, then everything would come to an end," Tolentino said. "Sahiron is the most respected leader in the Abu Sayyaf. He's the most senior and the most experienced although he lacks foreign contacts."
Intelligence officers however said it was unlikely Sahiron, 70, would take an active role in the group's operations after the killing of its chief Khaddafy Janjalani.
"Due to his failing health and advanced age, Sahiron would not be able to effectively lead the Abu Sayyaf," said an army-intelligence source. "But his counsel would always be sought and would remain an important voice in decision-making."
Sahiron lost his right hand fighting security forces in the 1970s.
The military confirmed on Saturday that Abu Sayyaf chief Janjalani had died from wounds sustained in a gunbattle with troops on Jolo in September.
Last week, it said it had killed Jainal Antel Sali, alias Abu Sulaiman, the group's tactician and master planner, also on Jolo.
"This year will be a watershed for national security as we mop up the remnants of the Abu Sayyaf," President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a statement on Monday.
Tolentino, the general, said the military's top targets were Sahiron and then Dulmatin and Umar Patek, two Indonesian militants blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings who have taken refuge with the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo.
"It would be easier to track down and get the Indonesians if we get Sahiron out of the way," he said. "His subordinates would probably come to us to collect rewards for these Indonesians."
The Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper published on Monday what it said was the last interview given by Janjalani, in which the slain militant said he had no links with al Qaeda or with the regional Jemaah Islamiah (JI) group but had received funds from two men close to Osama bin Laden.
"We don't even know bin Laden or any leader of JI, how can we have links?" Janjalani said in the interview with a university professor, which was conducted in February.
"What is true is that we have some JI field operatives who go with us anywhere. We actually don't mind who they are, provided they are willing to be our helping hands and follow our way of doing things here; we can't afford to be choosy."
The 31-year-old was the most wanted man in the Philippines and he was on a U.S. terrorist blacklist, carrying a bounty of $5 million on his head.
He said Abu Sayyaf had received funds from Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden's brother-in-law, and from Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center in New York.
"They needed at the time volunteers for Afghanistan while we needed money to buy arms, ammunition and other necessities to fight the oppressive government," Janjalani said in the interview with Professor Octavio Dinampo of the Mindanao State University in the southern Philippines.
"We reciprocated their assistance by providing them with volunteers."
Yousef is serving a life sentence for the World Trade Center bombing while Khalifa, who has said he is no longer close to bin Laden, is believed to be living in Saudi Arabia.
The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for a series of kidnappings, executions, bomb blasts and acts of piracy in the Philippines, including the country's worst terror attack, a bombing of a passenger ferry that killed over 100 people in 2004.