Terrorists Threaten Revenge After Leaders Killed in Prison Uprising

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - An al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group in the Philippines has vowed to avenge the deaths of three of its leaders, who were among 22 detainees killed Tuesday as government forces ended a 29-hour uprising in a maximum security prison.

President Gloria Arroyo's government tightened security in the wake of the threats by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), whose fugitive spokesman Abu Sulaiman told a radio station in the southern Mindanao region that the group would take its war to Manila's "doorstep."

Abu Sulaiman, indicted by U.S. authorities for conspiracy to kidnap and kill Americans, is one of three ASG leaders still at large.

Crushing the ASG has been a key goal of joint U.S.-Filipino counter-terror operations in Mindanao, and most key figures in the terrorist group have either been killed or apprehended.

Among those in custody were three leaders, Alhamzer Manatad Limbong (aka Commander Kosovo), Ghalib Andang (Commander Robot) and Nadzmie Saabdulah (Commander Global), linked to crimes including the kidnapping of tourists, bombings, and in Limbong's case the decapitation of an American hostage.

The three, who were awaiting trial, were killed when police stormed the four-story Metro Manila Rehabilitation Center.

The government said the uprising had begun on Monday after Limbong tried to lead a jailbreak. When a detainee seized a guard's weapon, three guards and two prisoners were killed.

During the ensuing standoff, the ASG threatened to carry out bombings if the police stormed the complex.

After negotiations failed and the holed-up prisoners ignored a deadline to surrender, the raid took place on Tuesday morning. Twenty-two detainees and a policeman died.

A senior police officer, Avelino Razon, was quoted as saying that police had found eight firearms, two handgrenades and firebombs in cells used by the ASG detainees.

Local Government Secretary Angelo Reyes, who headed a team set up to handle the crisis, said force had been used after attempts to resolve the situation peacefully failed.

"The message is, anybody who tries something like this in the future will be dealt with in a similar fashion," he warned.

"They got what was coming to them," Arroyo's press secretary, Ignacio Bunye, told a press briefing, adding that the group had been given every chance to surrender.

Arroyo congratulated the crisis management team, saying in a statement that "terrorism will never win in the Philippines."

The statement added that the president had ordered Reyes to "fully investigate this incident, sanction those responsible and fix up the jail system so that terrorists will be kept in permanently, without a chance to do harm until freed by the court, if ever."

Under the Rewards for Justice program, the State Department has offered rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of five ASG leaders involved in the kidnapping of Kansas missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham, and a tourist from California, Guillermo Sobero.

The three were among a group of mostly Filipino hostages seized from an island resort in May 2001.

Sobero was beheaded shortly afterwards, while the Burnhams, along with a Filipina nurse, were held in the jungles of Mindanao for more than a year.

In June 2002, U.S.-trained Philippines troops mounted a rescue mission, during which both Martin Burnham and the nurse, Ediborah Yap, were killed.

Two of the five ASG leaders have been killed: Hamsiraji Sali died in an April 2004 shootout with Philippine troops. The U.S. later paid three Filipinos a total of $1 million for their help in tracking him down.

Abu Sabaya was evidently killed in a skirmish with the Philippine Navy in mid-2002. His body fell into the sea and was never recovered.

The three still at large are Abu Sulaiman, Isnilon Hapilon, and the group's overall leader, Khadafi Janjalani.

Both the U.S. and Philippine governments believe the ASG has links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Bin Laden biographer Yossef Bodansky wrote that the Saudi terrorist helped the ASG become established in the early 1990s, and traveled to the southern Philippines in 1993.

The group was founded by the current leader's brother, Abduragak Janjalani, a veteran of the Islamic jihad against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. He was killed during a firefight with police in 1998.

In a book written after her rescue, former hostage Gracia Burnham said her captors proudly associated themselves with bin Laden and his Taliban allies.

When the ASG first seized the hostages, she recalled, they introduced themselves as "the Osama bin Laden group" and said their aim was to establish a Taliban-like Islamic state in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow