One of Asia’s most-wanted terror suspects was killed in a shootout Sunday, police said, ending a massive three-month manhunt launched after his stunning escape from Philippine police headquarters.
THE KILLING of Fathur Al-Ghozi, a bombmaker for the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, ends an embarrassing episode for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It also gives her a victory in the war on terrorism just six days before close ally President Bush visits.
Police said the suspected demolitions expert was killed in a shootout with a joint police-military team. The Philippine National Police said in a report Monday that Al-Ghozi’s identity was confirmed based on fingerprint analysis.
The report said that security forces tried to stop a van with two men on board in the southern town of Pigkawayan, but instead of stopping, the men opened fire at police and the army.
One of the men was able to escape in the darkness, while the other - who turned out to be Al-Ghozi - was wounded and later died in a hospital.
On Monday, Arroyo praised security forces for the operation.
“The death of Al-Ghozi signals that terrorism will never get far in the Philippines and that the long arm of the law will eventually get them,” Arroyo said in a statement, adding “this event should lift much of the anxieties of our people.”
Al-Ghozi had slipped out of the heavily secured police intelligence command building in July with two suspected members of the brutal Abu Sayyaf group, another al-Qaida linked terrorist group, setting off fears of new attacks. The escape came as Australian Prime Minister John Howard was visiting Manila to discuss counterterrorism cooperation.
The search for the 32-year-old Muslim militant focused on the southern Philippines, but also included cooperation with Indonesia and Malaysia.
Al-Ghozi had been initially captured in January 2002 in a downtown Manila hotel, according to officials and security documents that say Al-Ghozi was once a student of Jemaah Islamiyah’s alleged spiritual head, Abu Bakar Bashir.
A confessed member of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Ghozi was serving 12 years for illegally possessing explosives and had admitted involvement in a series of five bombings on Dec. 30, 2000, in Manila that killed 22 people and injured more than 100 others. He was due to be arraigned in the Manila case just hours after his escape.
Al-Ghozi’s cell phone records showed he called Isamuddin Riduan, Osama bin Laden’s suspected point man in Southeast Asia, before and after the Manila attacks. Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, has been charged for the bombings in absentia and is being interrogated by U.S. officials following his arrest in Thailand.
TON OF TNT
Al-Ghozi was sentenced to 10-12 years after pleading guilty on a separate charge of explosives possession. He led Philippine police to a ton of TNT that officials say was intended for planned attacks in Singapore on Western targets, including the U.S. Embassy.
InsertArt(2039751)He also is suspected in the Aug, 1, 2000, bombing of the residence of Philippine Ambassador Leonides Caday in Jakarta that killed two people and injured dozens.
Army Maj. Gen. Generoso Senga said Al-Ghozi was believed to have died around 8 p.m. Sunday in Pigkawayan town, in North Catabato province, in a shootout with military and police, led by the Presidential Anti-crime and Emergency Response (PACER) team.
“This operation has been going on for a long time now, but it looks like PACER got him,” Senga said. “The body is being verified. It’s better to be sure.”
Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Rodolfo Garcia, asked to confirm that Al-Ghozi had been killed, said: “Yes, yes,” explaining his information was based on police reports. Other officials said Arroyo was expected to make an official announcement on Monday.
The reported killing of Al-Ghozi came on the first anniversary of the nightclub bombings that killed 202 people on the resort Indonesian island of Bali and has been blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah. The group also was blamed for the blast at the Marriott Hotel in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, in August, that killed 12 people.
Al-Ghozi underwent Islamic studies in Lahore, Pakistan, before reportedly joining Jemaah Islamiyah in 1992, and trained in the use of weapons, including anti-aircraft guns and explosives in an area bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Fluent in several languages, Al-Ghozi allegedly moved effortlessly through Southeast Asia, using five passports and always staying in Muslim neighborhoods,” a police report said.
Al-Ghozi traveled to the Philippines in 1996 and developed contacts with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, later providing the Muslim separatist group with explosives training, the report said. He also trained recruits from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in explosives, according to a Singaporean security document.
Of the two men who escaped with Al-Ghozi, Omar Opik Lasal was arrested Friday elsewhere in the southern Philippines. Abdulmukim Edris was killed in August after he allegedly tried to grab the gun of a soldier shortly after he was nabbed at a roadblock.
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