Monday, January 22, 2007

One Soldier Killed As Philippines Raises Alert

Suspected supporters of Muslim militant group Abu Sayyaf killed one Philippine soldier and wounded seven others in an ambush shortly before their leader was declared dead, the military said. The Philippines raised its alert level on Saturday in anticipation of possible retaliation from Abu Sayyaf followers after the group's leader, Khaddafy Janjalani, was confirmed dead following U.S. forensic tests. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said on Sunday the death of Janjalani in a gun battle in September was a "mortal turning point" for the Abu Sayyaf, the Philippines' deadliest Muslim rebel group. Confirmation that the country's most wanted man was dead crowned a recent run of success against the Abu Sayyaf, which has lost a clutch of senior commanders in gun battles with the military on the remote, southern island of Jolo.The military has said that the Abu Sayyaf is suffering from a leadership vacuum, but they cautioned that the group, with a core membership of around 250 or so, could still retaliate. "If they can make a statement through waging of terror activities, particularly in the urban areas, of course, this will have a big impact on us, but we would like to assure that we are on alert," Lieutenant-Colonel Bartolome Bacarro said. Early on Saturday afternoon, suspected Abu Sayyaf supporters shot dead a soldier on Jolo. Six were arrested. Arroyo has vowed to crush the rebels and around 7,000 soldiers, backed by U.S. equipment and advisers, have been hunting Abu Sayyaf leaders and a handful of Indonesian allies on Jolo since August. Analysts said the military's ground offensive prevents the militants from launching major attacks but small bombings could be set off in the south. The Philippines is also battling a communist insurgency and the military said that seven members of the Maoist New People's Army (NPA) and one soldier were killed in a gun battle in rural Quezon province, in northern Philippines. Unlike Muslim militants, who are largely concentrated in the south, the NPA is active across the entire Philippines and the military views its decades-old insurgency as the biggest security threat facing the archipelago.