|Among those reportedly killed during Thursday's raid in Jolo was Umbra Jumdail, the leader of Abu Sayyaf
Philippine security forces have killed three of the country’s most wanted men after launching air raids on the suspected fighters' stronghold in the southern Jolo island, military officers say.
Among the15 alleged fighters reportedly killed on Thursday in the government raids were Umbra Jumdail, the leader of Abu Sayyaf, a separatist group accused of staging numerous deadly bombings in the Philippines, and two senior members of Jemaa Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian network fighting for the establishment of an Islamic government in the region.
Zulkifli bin Hir, an important Malaysian leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, and Abdullah Ali, another senior member of the group, also died in the bombings, Marcelo Burgos, a Philippine military spokesman, said.
"This is a big victory. There were three senior leaders [killed]. This will have a very big impact on the capability of the terrorists," Major-General Noel Coballes, the regional military commander, said.
Police recovered the bodies of the three leaders and said they were "positively identified by police and our intelligence informants at the site," Burgos said.
The US had offered a $5m reward for the capture of Hir, also known as Marwan, a US-trained engineer accused of involvement in deadly attacks in the Philippines.
The deaths, if confirmed, would significantly weaken a regional network that has relied on the southern Philippines, sometimes called Southeast Asia's Afghanistan, as a hideout and headquarters for planning bombings and a base for training and recruitment of fighters.
Bombed from air
About 30 fighters were at the camp near Parang town on Jolo, the stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf and their allies from the mostly Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah, when it was bombarded by two OV10 aircraft at 3am, Coballes said.
"Our report is there were at least 15 killed, including their three leadership,'' he said. "This is a deliberate, fully planned attack coming from our forces."
The rest of the fighters escaped and no one was captured after the attack, Coballes said.
The officials said the body of Jumdail, also known as Dr Abu Pula, was buried later on Thursday. One of the officials said the dead included Jumdail's son, also an Abu Sayyaf fighter.
US counterterrorism troops have helped Philippine troops track Marwan for years using satellite and drone surveillance.
Marwan allegedly collaborated with the Abu Sayyaf in training fighters in bomb-making skills, seeking funding locally and abroad and plotting attacks, including against American troops in the southern Philippines.
US-backed Philippine offensives have been credited for the capture and killing of hundreds of Abu Sayyaf fighters and most high-level leaders since the 1990s.
About 600 US special forces troops have been deployed in the southern Philippines since 2002, providing crucial support for the country's counterterrorism operations.