ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines Kaddafy Janjalani, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group which abducted American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham in 2001, has been killed in a gun battle, Philippine and U.S. authorities said.
According to authorities, Janjalani was killed by Philippine soldiers in the jungles of Patikul, Sulu which both U.S. and Philippine governments described a successful campaign against global terrorism. The battle reportedly lasted 30 minutes. The officials conducted a forensic examination two weeks ago.
The Burnhams were abducted at Dos Palmas in Puerto Princesa City in May 27, 2001 and were held captive for more than a year. Philippine soldiers rescued Gracia during an intense operation, but Martin was killed during the surprise raid. The couple was working for New Tribes Mission.
Authorities believe Janjalani's death could either end the 15-year terror activities in Southern Philippines or empower the group to take vengeance against Philippine and U.S. governments whose joint efforts were responsible for the death of their leader. There was a $5 million bounty for the terrorist leader.
Military intelligence reports disclosed that the Abu Sayyaf is now working as to who will succeed Janjalani. Possible candidates include Radullan Sahiron, a one-armed fighter who is already in his 70s, Abu Pula, the group's strategist who is in his 50s, and Isnilon Hapilon, the man responsible for kidnapping the Burnhams and 18 others at a Palawan resort.
However, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon said that the Abu Sayyaf will have a hard time looking for a leader as strong as Janjalani since there is no viable leader that could provide the same kind of leadership.
Moreover, the U.S. government, upon learning of the death of Janjalani, lauded President Gloria Arroyo's administration in her support to U.S. campaign against global terrorism. The U.S. military support also has been instrumental in neutralizing the Abu Sayyaf.
"The U.S. military presence (here) is to our advantage because it contributes to stable peace and development not only to the Southern Philippine region,but throughout the Philippines," Esperon said.
Another joint military exercise dubbed Balikatan, which means shoulder to shoulder, was scheduled to run from February 8 to March 4 in Jolo Island in Sulu Province, a small municipality, that breeds Abu Sayyaf militants. Local leaders of the island have reportedly expressed their support to host the joint exercise.
Sulu Governor Ben Loong, an advocate of U.S. presence in his Muslim-dominated province, said the U.S. troops in Sulu are not to fight the Muslims, but they will be here to restore elusive peace.
But Notacor Philippines, an organization of professional educators providing financial literacy seminars to Muslim communities in Southern Philippines, said the U.S. government has not addressed the root cause of terrorism in Southern Philippines, which identified as hatred and poverty.
Notacor Philippines President Fred Moreno said as long as people in the rural areas are financially illiterate, the terror activities in Southern Philippines will thrive and the end of the Abu Sayyaf will create a vacuum that will be filled by a new and stronger terror group.
"The U.S. government has to heal old wounds of the past so it can prevent wounds in the near future," Moreno said.
Gracia, who was notified of the terrorist leader's death by telephone, told the Wichita Eagle that she took no pleasure in the news.
"I felt this huge rush of relief," she said. "I think he was the most dangerous of all the Abu Sayyaf leaders. He was the mastermind of much atrocity there in Southeast Asia.
"Sulaiman's dream in life was to come to America some day and, in his words, 'Wreak havoc' here. He made no bones about it: He hated the West."