Philippine Police Kill Abu Sayyaf Commander, 2 Other Militants in Clash on Southern Island

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine police commandos killed an Abu Sayyaf commander linked to last year's kidnapping of Red Cross workers and gunned down two other militants in a clash in the south, officials said Sunday. Police went on full alert after the killings to guard against any retaliatory attacks.

Gafur Jumdail and two of his men were killed late Saturday near Maimbung town on Jolo island after clashing with commandos tracking a Malaysian militant and allied Filipino fighters, Jolo police chief Senior Superintendent Joseph Ramac said.

The death of Jumdail, who had been accused of several high-profile abductions including the January 2009 kidnappings of three Red Cross workers from Switzerland, Italy and the Philippines, is the latest blow to the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf.

Still, the group remains a major security threat in the Philippines, and national police placed the entire force in the southern Mindanao region on full alert Sunday to brace for any possible retaliatory attacks over Jumdail's death.

In Saturday's clash, commandos assaulted a house in a remote village in an attempt to arrest Jumdail, his elder brother, who is also an Abu Sayyaf commander, and Zulkifli bin Hir, a Malaysian militant wanted by Washington for alleged terrorist involvement, according to a police report.

As they raided the house, about 20 other Abu Sayyaf militants armed with rifles and grenade launchers opened fire nearby, sparking a 15-minute gunbattle. When the militants withdrew, police found the bodies of Gafur Jumdail and two other militants in the house, the report said.

Washington has blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization and deployed hundreds of troops in the country's south to train and arm Filipino soldiers battling the militants.

The extremist group, which has about 400 gunmen in Jolo and outlying islands, has been blamed for the country's worst bomb attacks, kidnapping sprees and for beheading some of its hostages, including an American tourist, who was decapitated in 2001.

Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, is a U.S.-trained engineer accused by Philippine authorities of involvement in a number of deadly bombings in the country. The U.S. has offered a $5 million reward for his capture.

Marwan is believed to have been hiding with the Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines for years. It was not immediately clear if Marwan was with Jumdail during Saturday's assault, police said.

The U.S. State Department says Marwan is believed to be a leader of the militant organization Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia 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.