Zamboanga City, Feb. 4, 2003 - Government forces killed a chief suspect in the kidnapping of three Indonesian tugboat crewmen in the southern Philippines island of Jolo, the military said Monday.

The military said Abu Sayyaf rebels tied to al Qaeda network are holding the Indonesian hostages Muntu Jacobus Winowatan, Julkipli and Pieter Llerich in Jolo island, about 950 km south of Manila.

The military said soldiers gunned down Sarawi Mohd Jamal during a firefight Monday in Jolo's Patikul town, scene of recent clashes between security and rebel forces.

He was implicated by the military in the June 17 kidnapping of the Indonesians. The military said guerrillas, led by Jamal, attacked the victims' cargo boat off Jolo island while it was enroute to the central Philippines province of Cebu to deliver coal and seized four crewmen -- but one them Ferdinand Joel escaped his captors several days later from a town called Luuk in Jolo island.

The military said Jamal was arrested in Zamboanga City in 1998 on charges of illegal possession of weapons, but had been released for a still unknown reasons after four months in jail and then rejoined the rebels under Radullan Sahiron.

It was unknown if his death would endanger the lives of the foreigners, but the military said Sahiron's group is holding the hostages and four other Filipino Christian preachers who were kidnapped in Patikul town August 20. The kidnappers originally demanded P16 million ransom in exchange for the safe release of the 3 Indonesians, said Yusop Jikiri, the island's governor.

Kidnappers have already beheaded two Filipino captives last year and their heads displayed at a market near an Army camp in Jolo.

There were reports about the fate of the hostages, but police in Jolo earlier said the Indonesian hostages were spottednear Panglima Estino town, east of Patikul. Police also said the rebels have lowered their ransom demand to only four million pesos for the foreigners. No other deatils were made available by the police.

It was not immediately known if the kidnappers also lowered their demands for the release of the 4 Filipinos, who are members of the Jehova's Witnesses. The Abu Sayyaf earlier demanded one millipon pesos for each of the victim and threatened to execute them if ransom is not paid.

The Abu Sayyaf was founded in the early 1990s by Islamic firebrand Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, who was killed in a gun battle with police authorities on Basilan island in 1998. His youngest brother Khadaffy Janjanjalani took over his post as the self-styled Islamic fighters slipped into banditry and kidnappings. (Al Jacinton, PHNO Mindanao Bureau)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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