MANILA, Philippines – Remains believed to be from the chief of the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, who was the target of a monthslong U.S.-backed manhunt, have been found in the southern Philippines, the military said Wednesday.
Khaddafy Janjalani is on a U.S. list of wanted terrorists with a $5 million bounty on his head for a series of beheadings, bombings and mass abductions. He has proven elusive in the dense jungles of the southern Philippines, and earlier reports of his demise have proven to be premature.
Lt. Col. Ariel Caculitan, the Philippine marines spokesman, said the decomposing remains were found buried in a remote part of Jolo island. Janjalani was believed to have been killed in a Sept. 4 clash with marines, Caculitan said, but DNA tests would be needed for confirmation.
"We are not yet officially confirming that it's him. We are still waiting for the results of the DNA examination," Caculitan said. He added the U.S. was providing help in forensic tests.
Caculitan said former Abu Sayyaf members who had surrendered helped troops find the site and claimed Janjalani had been shot in the neck. They said he had been carried dying from the area where he was shot to the burial location more than a mile away.
"If you look at the terrain ... it would not be easy to locate the site without reliable information," Caculitan said.
U.S.-backed Philippine troops launched an offensive on southern Jolo island in August, searching for Janjalani and two cohorts, top Indonesian terror suspects Dulmatin and Umar Patek.
Dulmatin, who goes by one name, and Patek are suspects in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people. They are also suspected of providing bomb-making training to Indonesian and Filipino guerrillas.
Janjalani and his key commanders have been charged with several deadly attacks in the Philippines, including a 2004 bombing that gutted a ferry and killed 116 people.
They also abducted three Americans and 17 Filipinos from a resort in May 2001, sparking a yearlong kidnapping spree that eventually involved 102 hostages. Eighteen, including one American, were beheaded or hacked to death.
U.S. military counterterrorism experts were dispatched to the Philippines in response to the abductions, and they are credited with helping decimate the terror group. The military currently estimates the Abu Sayyaf to have only 400 armed men left in Jolo and outlying provinces.
Still, Abu Sayyaf has shown itself to be resilient. Guerrillas were suspected of carrying out three recent bombings in the southern Philippines, including one that killed six people on Oct. 10.
Abu Sayyaf says it is fighting to create a Muslim state in the southern Philippines, which has a large Muslim population. The government calls them bandits who survive on the ransom money they are able to extract from abductions.
Abu Sayyaf's founder is Janjalani's brother, Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, who fought in Afghanistan before he was killed in a clash with Filipino police in late 1998. A third brother, Hector, was sentenced to life in prison two years ago for abducting American Jeffrey Schilling in August 2000. Schilling managed to escape eight months later.