Sunday, March 04, 2007

Militant May Lead Philippine Terrorists

A little-known militant is being considered to lead an al-Qaida-linked terrorism group in the Philippines after U.S.-backed troops killed its two top leaders, security officials said. Philippine Army Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, who is overseeing a massive U.S.-backed offensive against the Abu Sayyaf terror group on the southern island of Jolo, identified the militant as Yasser Igasan. He cited intelligence reports for the information. Igasan was considered a likely new leader of the group because of his terror training abroad and his connections with possible foreign financiers, two security officials told The Associated Press on customary condition of anonymity. Abu Sayyaf, which is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, has been blamed for deadly bombings, beheadings and high-profile ransom kidnappings, including Americans. Not much is known about Igasan's background. His name appeared during intelligence operatives' monitoring of Abu Sayyaf following the killings of the group's chieftain, Khaddafy Janjalani, in September, and his presumed successor, Abu Sulaiman, in January, the security officials said.Igasan, an explosives expert, may have already returned to Jolo island in Sulu province, Cedo told the AP. "He's from abroad," Cedo said. "He has the connections." Military and police intelligence officials have speculated that the next likely leader of Abu Sayyaf would be chosen from among its most senior commanders, led by Radulan Sahiron, a one-armed militant based in the mountain jungles near Jolo's Patikul town. Despite the emergence of possible successors, it may take time for the Abu Sayyaf to anoint a new leader because its remaining 400 armed members, mostly on Jolo and nearby Basilan island, are being pressed by relentless military assaults, the two security officials said. Hundreds of U.S. troops wound down two weeks of military exercises and development work on Jolo Saturday. Other U.S. military personnel training and arming Filipino troops are expected stay as long as the Philippine government needs them, U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney told reporters.