Manila: A Philippine military air and ground assault killed three Abu Sayyaf commanders and two other militants but failed to snare a key Southeast Asian terror suspect in the south, officials said on Monday.
The five militants killed during the weekend assault on an Abu Sayyaf jungle encampment near mountainous Indanan town in southern Sulu province were Filipinos, military spokesman Col Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos said.
But the primary targets — Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, and Abu Sayyaf commander Umbra Jumdail — escaped along with two other Asian militants and dozens of Abu Sayyaf fighters, Burgos and marine officials said.
"These offensives keep them on the run, disorganized and unable to plot attacks," Burgos said.
The troops were also after Singaporean militant Muhammad Ali Bin Al-Rahman, also known as Muawiya, and an Indonesian who has been identified only as Qayyim. Both are believed to be affiliated with the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah, officials said.
Jumdail has given refuge to the foreign militants in his jungle encampment for years, said Sulu police operations chief Amil Baanan.
After the assault, marines found three rifles, a pistol and camouflage uniforms, which were abandoned by the militants.
Washington has offered a USD 5 million reward for the capture or killing of Marwan, a US-trained Malaysian engineer long hunted by US and Philippine authorities for his alleged role in past terror attacks.
US-backed Philippine offensives have considerably weakened the Abu Sayyaf, one of at least four Muslim insurgent groups operating in the south.