THE Philippine military said a key leader of a Philippine Islamist group responsible for a series of kidnap-for-ransom cases was among the three shot dead in a shootout with Malaysian security forces in the waters off Sabah in Borneo last Thursday.
According to the AFP, Abraham Hamid, a leader from the Abu Sayyaf group headed the kidnapping of several foreigners from a resort in the restive southern Philippines last year led to the beheading of two captives.
“The death of Hamid is a big blow to the (Abu Sayyaf) as it neutralised one of the (most) notorious bandits and will degrade their capability for spotting and kidnapping victims in the future,” regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan was quoted as saying.
Hamid was killed alongside two other militants in an exchange of gunfire with Malaysian security forces patrolling Lahad Datu in eastern Sabah on Thursday.
The three killed were said to be part of a group of six to eight men believed to be behind a slew of cross-border kidnappings in recent months. They were caught during a late night gun fight with local police that left one policeman injured.
During the standoff, a hostage caught in the fray was freed, while three gunmen were arrested.
The authorities have since launched a search and rescue mission for another abductee who is reportedly missing, while a manhunt is on for another two suspects who managed to escape from the firefight.
A report in the New Straits Times quoted Sabah Police Commissioner Abd Rashid Harun as saying that the bandits who were on a robbery and kidnapping spree on Thursday had inadvertently encountered members of the elite General Operation Force’s Battalion 14’s Tiger Platoon.
Canadians John Risdel and Robert Hall were earlier this year beheaded by the group when no ransom was paid for their release.
Tan said in April, Abraham had been involved in the kidnapping of four Indonesian sailors in a series of kidnappings of Malaysian and Indonesian crewman by the Abu Sayyaf group.
Mean while Tan said three soldiers have been killed and 17 wounded in nearly two hours of fighting against about 150 Muslim militants in the south.
He said Abu Sayyaf gunmen withdrew after the fierce clash on Saturday in the mountains of Patikul town in Sulu province, and are being pursued by government forces. He says an unspecified number of militants were either wounded or killed.
Tan said Sunday the militants were led by Radulan Sahiron, a one-armed commander long wanted by the U.S. and Philippine governments for his alleged role in kidnappings for ransom and other acts.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press