HUNT FOR ABU SAYYAF, PENTAGON INTENSIFIED

A soldier points his rifle to photographs of known Abu Sayyaf and Pentagon Gang members publicly displayed in the southern Philippine island of Basilan in this undated photo.Zamboanga City, Jan. 23, 2003 (Story and Photo by Al Jacinto, PHNO reporter) -Philippine troops on Thursday were ordered to intensify offensive against the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and the Pentagon kidnap gang in the South, as security pursued Muslim gunmen in the southern Jolo island, officials said.

Southern Command chief Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya said soldiers were pursuing the rebels in Jolo island and members of the Pentagon Gang in central Mindanao."There are military operations going on. Troops were hunting down terrorists," he said.

Abaya said troops in Jolo were pursuing the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Khadaffy Janjalani, Radullan Sahiron, Isnilon Hapilon, Abu Solaiman, Galib Andang and Mujib Susukan; Hamsiraji Salih in Basilan island and Tahir Alonto in central Mindanao.

The United States last year has included both the Abu Sayyaf and the Pentagon Gang, composed mostly of rouge members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), on its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Philippine authorities have blamed the two groups in the series of terrorism and kidnappings of mostly missionaries and foreigners in the southern Philippines.

In Jolo island, Col. Alexander Aleo, provincial military commander, said security forces have assaulted suspected Abu Sayyaf lairs in the hinterlands of Talipao town, where Andang and Susukan are known to operate. "It is ongoing, there is a military operation right now and troops were pursuing the rebels," he said.

He said an undetermined number of rebels were killed and wounded in the offensive which began Wednesday. "Soldiers were searching for bodies or weapons in the jungle," Aleo said.

Guerrilllas have killed three soldiers and wounded six others last week in Jolo's Patikul town, he said.

Basilan Army chief Col. Bonifacio Ramos said soldiers were also hunting down Salih. "He is still here in Basilan and we are pursuing him," Ramos said. He said Abu Sayyaf rebels in Basilan have been moving from one hideout to another to avoid detection by the military.

Security forces were also running after Alonto in central Mindanao, a traditional lair of the MILF, Abaya said. "We have warned the MILF not to provide sanctuary to Alonto's group because we will pursue the Pentagon Gang whereever they are," he said.

Troops killed at least 28 MILF and Pentagon Gang members in fierce fighting early this month in Columbio town in Sultan Kudarat province, Abaya said, accussing the MILF of coddling kidnappers.


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