GMA PROCLAIMS 'TERRORISM WILL NOT WIN IN THE PHILIPPINES'
MANILA, March 16, 2005 (STAR) (AFP) - With the death of three top leaders of an Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic group, President Gloria Arroyo lauded Tuesday the end of a stand-off at a maximum security prison.
Around 300 heavily armed special forces police firing tear gas and automatic rifles took part in the operation at Camp Bagong Diwa prison in southeastern Manila, where three prison guards and two inmates were killed in a jailbreak attempt Monday.
President Gloria Arroyo said in a radio speech that "terrorism will never win in the Philippines."
She said a government team, led by Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes, had "exahusted all peaceful means to resolve the crisis" and force was used as a last resort.
Arroyo said Reyes would conduct a full investigation into the incident. "Those responsible for lapses in security will be sanctioned."
Arroyo said the country's jail system will be examined so that terrorists will be kept inside "permanently and without the chance to do harm until freed by the courts ... if ever."
"This is a lesson of sustained vigilance for all our people," Arroyo said.
Manila police chief Avelino Razon said three leaders of the Abu Sayyaf kidnap group -- Galib Andang, alias Commander Robot; Alhamser Limbong, alias Commander Kosovo; and Nadjmi Sabdulla, alias Commander Global -- were among 22 slain prisoners.
One policeman who was part of the initial assault was found dead later.
Razon told reporters that eight handguns had been recovered from cells of Abu Sayyaf prisoners in the four-storey building, along with two hand grenades and improvised firebombs.
Hours after the attack the smell of tear gas still hung over the jail as police continued to search the cells. Officials said many of the dead Abu Sayyaf members were found in a blood-soaked cell on the ground floor.
Razon said Andang had been involved in the kidnap of western tourists from Sipadan island in Malaysia in 2000, while Limbong faced trial for the bombing of a ferry in Manila last year that left over 100 people dead.
Six policemen were wounded in the assault, he said.
"Thank God it is over ... the terrorists got what was coming to them," said Arroyo's press secretary, Ignacio Bunye.
The prison houses most of the suspects believed responsible for the worst attacks by Islamic extremists in the Philippines.
Police wearing gas masks and helmets started storming the four-storey building and retaking it cell by cell and floor by floor at 9:15 am (0115 GMT).
For about two hours heavy automatic rifle fire could be heard coming from the block holding 471 prisoners, a third of them Abu Sayyaf suspects, as thick clouds of teargas billowed from windows.
Reyes said the operation had been carried out in an "exemplary" manner but expressed regret at the casualty count.
"I hope this delivers a strong message that anybody who tries to do something like this in the future will be dealt with in the same fashion," Reyes said.
"They tried to escape. They killed three of our guards and wounded two others," Reyes said.
Asked why Andang was shot when he had already lost a leg during his capture in 2001, national police spokesman Leopoldo Bataoil said: "You don't use your legs to fire a gun."
Andang, a former separatist Muslim guerrilla in his late 30s, allegedly led an Abu Sayyaf kidnapping raid on the Malaysian resort of Sipadan in April 2000.
The group seized 21 Western tourists and Asian resort workers, shipping them to the Philippine island of Jolo where they were held for several months before being ransomed off for millions of dollars.
Limbong was on trial for the bombing of a passenger ferry on Manila Bay last year that claimed more than 100 lives -- the country's worst militant attack -- as well as the kidnapping of several tourists on a resort island in the western Philippines in May 2001.
Two of the three American captives in that raid were killed while in captivity including one, Californian tourist Guillermo Sobero, who was allegedly beheaded by Limbong.
A third American hostage, Christian missionary Gracia Burnham, was rescued on Mindanao island in June 2002.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
© Copyright, 2005
by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE
All rights reserved
PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE [PHNO] WEBSITE