A top al-Qaida-linked militant, long wanted by U.S. and Philippine authorities for deadly terror attacks, has been killed in a clash with troops in a major blow to his rebel group, the military said Wednesday.
Jainal Antel Sali Jr., popularly known as Abu Sulaiman — a top leader of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group — was fatally shot in a fierce gunbattle Tuesday in a clash with army special forces, military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon said, confirming earlier reports of the militant's death.
Sulaiman claimed responsibility for a February 2004 bombing that triggered a ferry fire, killing 116 people in Southeast Asia's second-worst terror attack.
He also was accused of masterminding the kidnapping of three Americans and Filipino tourists from the southeastern island of Palawan in 2001.
One of the Americans, Guillermo Sobero, was beheaded. American missionary Gracia Burnham was wounded and rescued by army commandos after a year in jungle captivity, but her husband, Martin, was killed during the operation.
The kidnappings prompted Philippine authorities to allow the deployment of U.S. troops in the southern Mindanao region to train and arm Filipino soldiers working to wipe out the resilient Abu Sayyaf.
More than 7,000 troops have been hunting Sulaiman and other militants on Jolo island since Aug. 1 in a U.S.-backed campaign called "Oplan Ultimatum."