|Associated Press Thu, Apr 08, 2004
ZAMBOANGA, Philippines - Six members of the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group, including a senior leader wanted by the United States, were killed in a clash Thursday with Philippine troops on southern Basilan island, officials said.
Hamsiraji Sali, one of five Abu Sayyaf leaders wanted by Washington for the deaths of two American hostages, was among the six killed by a Scout Ranger platoon in Basilan's Isabela town, military spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero said.
Four troops were wounded in the gunfight, which erupted at noon in the village of Makiri.
An official from the military's Southern Command said a civilian tipped off the soldiers on the location of Sali's group, but that the rebels apparently got wind of the military's plan to raid their hideout and were able to retaliate.
Washington has blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf — notorious for kidnappings and beheadings — as a terrorist group and has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of its top leaders, including Abu Sayyaf chief Khaddafy Janjalani, Sali and three others.
Galib Andang, another senior Abu Sayyaf leader who is not on the U.S. list but recently was arrested, told authorities Sali broke off from Janjalani's group over disagreements over ransom money.
In previous calls to local media two years ago, Sali said the break was due to contradicting views and goals. He said he wanted to surrender and cooperate with the government to help the civilian population of Basilan, where he is based.
But Sali said this was conditional on the military halting its offensive there.