Bali bomber hurt in Filipino gunfight
SOUTHEAST Asia's most wanted terrorist, Bali bomb mastermind Dulmatin, has been wounded in a fierce gunfight on remote Jolo Island in a significant win for US-backed Philippines forces battling to "eliminate" the Jemaah Islamiah kingpin and his Abu Sayyaf cronies. The Australian, in a series of interviews with the top Philippines and US commanders in the southern Philippines, has also learned that Dulmatin, along with his JI Bali bomber partner Omar Patek, are on the run for their lives on Jolo. The pair spend no longer than six hours in one place on the jungle-covered volcanic island. According to Philippines Brigadier-General Ruben Rafael, they have even resorted to cross-dressing sporting wigs and burkas to evade 6000 troops hunting them.

Dulmatin, who has a $US10million ($13 million) bounty on his head, has hidden two of his children away on the nearby island of Basilan, probably with the widow of Abu Sayyaf founder Abburajak Janjalani, one commander said. However, he is unable to leave Jolo to see them because of intense coastguard surveillance and regular reconnaissance flights by US Orion spy planes. "Dulmatin is here till he dies," Captain Abdurassad Sirajan, of the 104th Brigade of the Philippines army, in Jolo, told The Australian. "His assignment is to lead the Abu Sayyaf group - that is why he was sent here from Indonesia."

JI, the Southeast Asian affiliate of al-Qaida, is aligned to the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf. Captain Sirajan, a Jolo-raised Muslim and former Moro National Liberation Front commander, said the bomb technician, who planned the 2002 Bali attacks that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, was injured last week as Philippines soldiers overran a joint JI/Abu Sayyaf terrorist camp in the southern Philippines. Dulmatin, was shot during the three-hour battle involving about 60 Abu Sayyaf and JI gunmen. Abu Solaiman, Abu Sayyaf's spokesman, who had a $US5million ($6.4 million) bounty on his head, was killed during the raid.

But Dulmatin, who goes by one name, escaped on foot. According to unconfirmed sightings, he was with Patek. "They are on the run and we have many informants covering Dulmatin and Patek in Sulu, so we are expecting good developments within this week," said General Eugenio Cedo, Philippines military chief for Western Mindanao, including Jolo and the Sulu islands. "They realise that they are losing some leaders and maybe they will make themselves vulnerable by attempting or trying to get even. Revenge, you know it is part of their culture. They make the war more personal."

The Abu Sayyaf group and their supporters are threatening locals with violence to force them to offer shelter and support - including food and money - to their members and to Dulmatin and Patek. The US-backed Philippines military operation Ultimatum, under way in Jolo since August, has successfully targeted "high-value terrorists" from JI and Abu Sayyaf, including local leader Khadaffy Janjalani. DNA tests last week confirmed the 31- year-old guerilla was iced killed in clashes in Jolo in September.

Janjalani and Solaiman were wanted for numerous terrorist bombings, killings and beheadings of Christians and westerners, including the 2004 super ferry passenger bombing near Manila that killed more than 100, the 2005 Valentine's Day bombings in the capital and a string of attacks in the southern Philippines. Binang Sali, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf urban terrorist group, has also been killed during the military offensive, aided by hundreds of US special forces and intelligence experts. Earlier this month, Philippines forces killed an Indonesian member of JI, in a sea battle near the Tawi-Tawi islands south of Jolo, as he tried to escape for Sabah in Malaysia.

Australia, which is seeking to upgrade defence relations with The Philippines through a status of forces agreement, has offered significant support and training to the Philippines police and military. For the first time, Philippines police have confirmed the presence of Australian special forces officers in the southern Philippines. Zamboanga Port police commander Francisco Clavesillas told The Australian he met Australian SAS officers last year, and also detailed comprehensive training in port security offered in Mindanao by the Australian transport department.
Posted by: tipper 2007-01-25