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Friday, September 08, 2006

30 JI hiding in Philippines: military chief

MANILA (AFP) - Up to 30 members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) are still hiding in the Philippines including two suspected Bali bombers, the country's military chief of staff has said.

General Hermogenes Esperon said the military was trying to confirm reports that the two Bali bombers, Umar Patek and Dulmatin, had been wounded in recent fighting on the southern island of Jolo.

More than 5,000 troops are involved in hunting down the two men and their local Muslim protectors, the Abu Sayyaf extremist group.

Dulmatin and Umar Patek are wanted for the 2002 bombings that killed 202 people on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. The US government has placed a bounty totalling 11 million dollars on their heads.

Esperon identified the two as Indonesians but would not specify the identities or nationalities of the other JI members who were being sheltered by some Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders.

He said that despite signing a ceasefire with the government in 2001 some MILF commanders are working with the Abu Sayyaf against the orders of the their own leadership.

The JI, a regional Southeast Asian extremist group linked to Al-Qaeda, has been trying to establish a base in the southern Philippines, Esperon told a forum of foreign correspondents.

Esperon said the government was determined to press on with its assault on JI and the Abu Sayyaf in Jolo, adding that eight military battalions had been deployed to the area since early August.

Twelve soldiers and 12 Abu Sayyaf fighters have been killed in the fighting so far with 50 soldiers wounded and 10 Abu Sayyaf fighters captured, he said.

The military believes the Abu Sayyaf has suffered more casualties from aerial bombings and grenade attacks although the group has been able to recover and bury their dead quickly, he added.
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