Manila: Philippine marines killed at least seven al Qaeda-linked militants on Sunday in a raid on a coastal hide-out, but failed to capture a Malaysian terror suspect long wanted by Washington, officials said.
Government forces, backed by intelligence from captured militants and US military surveillance, have staged a series of offensives against the Abu Sayyaf extremist group in recent weeks — including one that killed a top commander last month.
Marines in rubber boats launched the latest raid on Sunday on Laminusa Island off southern Sulu province, sparking two clashes that left seven militants dead — including two women — and wounded a marine, regional military commander Brig Gen Rustico Guerrero said.
Malaysian militant Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, and Abu Sayyaf commander Abu Benhur are believed to have escaped with other fleeing militants, Guerrero said.
"They may have escaped but we`re pursuing them. This campaign will be relentless," he said.
Marines recovered 15 assault weapons abandoned by the militants in a rural tangle of huts on stilts, he said.
The United States has offered a USD 5 million reward for the capture of Marwan, a US-trained Malaysian engineer who has been accused by Philippine authorities of involvement in a number of deadly bombings in the country.
Marwan has alleged links to several southeast Asian terrorist groups with al Qaeda ties. The US State Department says he is believed to be a leader of the militant organisation Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM) and a member of the central command of Jemaah Islamiyah, the al Qaeda affiliate blamed for numerous regional attacks, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings in Indonesia.
He is thought to have been living in the southern Philippines since 2003 and is accused of conducting explosives training for Abu Sayyaf militants there.
The Abu Sayyaf, which is believed to have less than 400 fighters, has been fighting for years to create an Islamic state in the predominantly Christian nation. The US has blacklisted it as a terrorist organisation because of deadly bombings, kidnappings and attacks targeting civilians, including Americans.
Last month, government forces killed Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad, a young, Sulu-based militant who has been accused of beheadings and high-profile kidnappings, including of three Red Cross workers from Switzerland, Italy and the Philippines. The three were freed reportedly after payment of huge ransom.