Philippine troops kill Abu Sayyaf militant wanted for kidnappings, hospital takeover

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine troops clashed with Abu Sayyaf gunmen in a southern coastal village Sunday and killed a long-wanted militant who helped in the 2001 kidnapping of three American and 17 Filipino tourists and the takeover of a hospital, the military said.

Abdukarim Sali was killed before dawn in a clash with troops and police in Lower Mangas village on Basilan island's Lantawan township — a stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf, regional military commander Lt. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino said.

The other militants fled, leaving behind Sali's body, an M16 rifle and grenade launcher, ammunition and cell phones.

The government offered a $7,700 bounty for the capture or death of Sali, who has been accused of helping kidnap three American and 17 mostly Chinese Filipino tourists in May 2001 from the Dos Palmas resort in western Palawan province.

Hunted by hundreds of troops, the militants brought their captives by speedboat to Basilan, where they took over a hospital in Lamitan town to steal medicine and snatch a hospital staff member and two nurses.

American missionary Gracia Burnham survived the jungle captivity, but husband Martin and one of the Filipino nurses were killed in an army commando rescue in 2002. The third American, Guillermo Sobero, was beheaded by the militants. The other hostages were freed separately, reportedly after ransom payments.

The kidnappings and violence prompted Washington to deploy hundreds of troops to southern Mindanao region, where they have been training Philippine troops and sharing intelligence. U.S. military personnel are not allowed to engage in combat in the Philippines.

Although the government claims to have crippled Abu Sayyaf after years of offensives, the group remains a major security threat. It held three Red Cross workers and several other hostages last year, attacked troops and blew up bridges. A roadside bomb in September killed two U.S. soldiers.

The militants, who have received Al-Qaida training and funds in the past, have remained without a central leader following the killings of its top commanders, the military says.

Meanwhile, dozens of rebels from a larger Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, attacked a village in Basilan's Lamitan town on Sunday, killing one villager and wounding another, police said.

A rebel commander, Hud Limaya, led the attack to avenge the recent killing of his relative by a clan based in the town, police and military officials said. The rebels withdrew when army troops were deployed to contain the violence.

At least three Muslim rebel groups are actively operating in the south, along with members of the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah militant network, complicating government efforts to curb violence and introduce development in some of the country's poorest regions.