updated 1/20/2007 3:39:23 PM ET 2007-01-20T20:39:23

DNA tests confirmed the death of the leader of the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf terror group that was responsible for the beheading of a California tourist and the kidnapping of two American missionaries, officials said Saturday.

The Abu Sayyaf leader, Khadaffy Janjalani, was killed in September in fighting with U.S.-backed Philippine troops, who also killed Janjalani’s possible successor in an operation on Tuesday.

The deaths of Janjalani and Abu Sulaiman, who was wanted in the abduction of the three Americans and the deaths of two of them, mark a major victory in the campaign against Islamic militants in the south of the archipelago after years of bombings and kidnappings.

The FBI conducted the tests on remains found buried in the jungles of southern Jolo island in December, comparing the DNA with that of Janjalani’s imprisoned brother, said military Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines is proud to announce that we have neutralized the center of gravity of terrorism in the Philippines,” Esperon said.

Martin and Gracia Burnham, a missionary couple from Wichita, Kan., and Guillermo Sobero of Corona, Calif., were taken by Abu Sayyaf from a resort island in May 2001. Sobero was beheaded by the militants and Martin Burnham was killed during a military rescue in June 2002 in which his wife was wounded.

‘Positive step’
The U.S. Embassy said Janjalani’s death marks “an important and positive step forward in the ultimate goal of eliminating the ruthless and dangerous Abu Sayyaf group, and in destroying its links with international terrorist groups,” such as Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah.

Police warned that Abu Sayyaf could stage retaliatory attacks.

“It is like wounded animal or a fighting cock — it can still throw a kick,” said Romeo Ricardo, chief of the national police Intelligence Group.

Janjalani, who had a $5 million U.S. bounty for his capture or death, escaped from police detention in 1995. He took over Abu Sayyaf from his older brother, group founder Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, after he was killed in 1998.

Abu Sayyaf has been linked to several deadly attacks in the Philippines, including a 2004 bombing that gutted a ferry, killing 116 people.

Mass kidnappings
The group, which is believed to have about 400 followers and says it is fighting to establish a separate Muslim state in the southern Philippines, has also carried out mass kidnappings. Among them was the seizure of dozens of students and teachers in the southern island province of Basilan in 2000, and the abduction of 17 Filipinos and the three Americans.

Janjalani was killed in a clash with soldiers on southern Jolo island on Sept. 4, about a month after the military launched a major offensive backed by U.S. troops, which provide training and intelligence support.

The offensive on Jolo, about 600 miles south of Manila, has targeted Janjalani, Sulaiman, and two top Indonesian terror suspects blamed for the October 2002 Bali, Indonesia, bombings that killed 202 people.

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