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Fighting enters third day in Jolo

August 3, 2006 12:47pm
ZAMBOANGA CITY – Heavy fighting between government security forces and Islamic militants entered its third day Thursday as troops continue flushing out terrorist leader Khadaffy Janjalani and two suspected masterminds of the October 2002 Bali bombings from rebel lairs on the southern island-province of Jolo, officials said.

Officials said Janjalani could be with Umar Patek and Dulmatin, members of the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) which has been blamed for the bombings in the posh Bali resort.

“We have reports the two JI bombers are in Jolo, but we cannot say if they were with the group of Abu Sayyaf terrorists we are fighting now," said Army Col. Antonio Supnet, chief of staff of the Armed Forces Southern Command based here.

"It is difficult to say Patek and Dulmatin are fighting soldiers alongside with the Abu Sayyaf," he added.

Patek, an Indonesian explosive expert, was believed to have played a key role in the Bali bombing which killed over 200 people, mostly Australian tourists.

Both Patek and Dulmatin, a Malaysian electronics expert, evaded a massive police hunt in Indonesia and reportedly fled to Mindanao in August 2003 soon after the bombing of the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta.

Since fighting broke out in Indanan town, at least three militants have been killed while two more were said to have been wounded.

Five soldiers were also wounded in sporadic fighting in the town’s hinterland villages. Hundreds have been displaced by the fighting.

“The military offensive is ongoing and sporadic clashes were reported today in Indanan," Supnet said, adding no new casualties from both sides were reported.

Indanan is also a known lair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and its leaders assured the military that their forces would not provide sanctuary to terrorists. The MNLF signed a peace accord with Manila in September 1996.

Philippine authorities have blamed the al Qaida-linked Aby Sayyaf to the series of terrorist attacks in southern Philippines and even in the capital.

Supnet said the US military has been providing intelligence to Filipino troops involved in the operations.

“Friends in the US military are helping the (Philippine) military by providing us intelligence. They are not involved in combat operation."

Commander Kathy Wright, a spokesperson for the US military, said American soldiers were also providing life-support system for local troops on Jolo island.

“We are helping in the medical evacuation of wounded soldiers. The US military is not directly involved in any combat operation in Jolo, but we continue to assist and advice the Philippine military on the fight against terrorism on the request of the Filipino government," Wright said.

A US EP3 Orion reconnaissance plane was also reported flying over Zamboanga and Jolo on Tuesday, but Wright said the aircraft was only gathering weather data for the Philippine military.

“Law abiding people have nothing to fear about the plane. It was just gathering weather data and forecast for the Philippine military," she said.

US soldiers were training Filipino troops in anti-terrorism warfare and involved in many humanitarian missions in the south. A small contingent of American troops is also based on Jolo island. - GMANews.TV
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