By JIM GOMEZ
The Associated Press
Sunday, January 21, 2007; 2:08 PM
MANILA, Philippines -- The death of the Philippines' most-wanted terror suspect leaves the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf insurgent group with no strong leader for now, security officials said Sunday.
Likely successors include a one-armed commander hobbled by arthritis and another who has rarely traveled beyond the mountains of two islands in the southern Philippines. But two Indonesian terrorism plotters are thought to be with Abu Sayyaf and could provide training.
The Philippines military chief, Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, announced Saturday that Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani had been killed in a clash with troops on Jolo island four months ago, citing results from DNA testing done by U.S. authorities.
The announcement came four days after U.S.-backed Philippine troops on Jolo killed Abu Sulaiman, a senior Abu Sayyaf commander who had been seen as a possible successor to Janjalani.
The two were the main contacts to Islamic militants in Indonesia and Middle Eastern donors who have provided funding and combat training, said Romeo Ricardo, chief of the national police's Intelligence Group.
With the U.S.-backed offensive still under way, more than 300 surviving Abu Sayyaf guerrillas will probably split into smaller groups to better evade troops and it may take time for the group to choose a permanent leader, Ricardo and the military said.
A lifeline could be Umar Patek and the one-named Dulmatin, two Indonesians sought in their home country as the alleged masterminds of the 2002 nightclub bombings that killed 202 people on the resort island of Bali.
They are believed to be still on Jolo with the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas and could continue to provide combat and bomb-making training while linking the group with outside Islamic militants, the military said. They also could help the militants choose a new leader, officials said.
A list of three lower-level Abu Sayyaf commanders that security officials consider the top candidates for top leadership was provided to The Associated Press by a military officer and a police official, who both insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to journalists.
The first is Radulan Sahiron, a one-armed man in his 70s based in the forested mountains of Patikul on southern Jolo island. An ex-commander with the Moro National Liberation Front, a Muslim rebel group that signed a 1996 peace accord with the government, he is Abu Sayyaf's most senior fighter.
He lacks Janjalani's local and foreign contacts, and he reportedly has often had to be hoisted onto a horse in recent years because of his many illnesses, including arthritis and diabetes. Washington has offered a $200,000 reward for his capture.
Also on the list is Isnilon Hapilon, another ex-MNLF commander, based in Lantawan on Basilan island. He is believed to lead 20-30 armed men and gained notoriety by helping Janjalani carry out major attacks, including the kidnapping of three Americans and 17 mostly Filipino tourists in 2001. One of the Americans was beheaded and another was killed during an army rescue.
In his 40s or 50s, Hapilon is a rural-based fighter who has not ventured much beyond the mountains of Basilan and Jolo. Washington has offered a reward of up to $5 million for his capture.
The third man is Abu Pula, also a former MNLF rebel, based in Jolo's mountainous Indanan with an estimated 50 to 70 armed followers. He is called "Dr. Abu" by some people because of his purported ability to perform crude treatments on wounded guerrillas and ailing villagers.
Pula, believed to be in his 50s, is not known to have extensive local and foreign militant contacts but he reportedly harbored Dulmatin and Patek for several months in his mountain stronghold last year. The U.S. has offered a reward of $100,000 for his capture.