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Militant's death confirmed

January 21, 2007|From the Associated Press

MANILA — DNA tests confirmed the death of the leader of the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, which is believed responsible for the beheading of a California tourist and the kidnapping of two American missionaries, officials said Saturday.

Khadafi Abubakar Janjalani was believed to have been killed in September in fighting with U.S.-backed Philippine troops, who also killed Janjalani's possible successor in an operation Tuesday.

The deaths of Janjalani and Abu Solaiman, who was wanted in the abduction of the three Americans and the deaths of two of them, are considered a major victory in the campaign against Islamic militants in the south of the archipelago after years of bombings and kidnappings.

The FBI conducted the tests on remains found buried in the jungle of southern Jolo island in December, comparing the DNA with that of Janjalani's imprisoned brother, said military Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon.

"The armed forces of the Philippines is proud to announce that we have neutralized the center of gravity of terrorism in the Philippines," Esperon said.

Guillermo Sobero of Corona, Calif., and Martin and Gracia Burnham, a missionary couple from Wichita, Kan., were taken by Abu Sayyaf from a resort island in May 2001. Sobero was beheaded by the militants and Martin Burnham was killed during a military rescue in June 2002 in which his wife was wounded.

The U.S. Embassy said Janjalani's death was "an important and positive step forward in the ultimate goal of eliminating the ruthless and dangerous Abu Sayyaf group, and in destroying its links with international terrorist groups," such as Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiah.

Police warned that Abu Sayyaf could stage retaliatory attacks.

There was a $5-million U.S. bounty for the capture or death of Janjalani, who escaped from police detention in 1995. He took over Abu Sayyaf from his older brother, group founder Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, after he was killed in 1998.

Abu Sayyaf has been linked to several deadly attacks in the Philippines, including a 2004 ferry bombing that killed 116 people. The group is believed to have about 400 followers and says it is fighting to establish a separate Muslim state in the southern Philippines.

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