• Top Abu Sayyaf leader escapes military assault in Southern Philippines

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    ZAMBOANGA CITY: A notorious Abu Sayyaf leader tagged as behind the spate of kidnappings and terrorism in the southern Philippines escaped a military operation on Basilan province, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, officials said.

    Officials said Nurhassan Jamiri who was with 11 other gunmen escaped rocket attacks from a military helicopter on a sandbar at Kalang Sibubong just a kilometer away from the village of Bato-Bato in Al-Barka town. The gunmen were having a picnic when troops spotted them.

    The rebels escaped on a motorized boat to a mangrove area in the neighboring village of Cambug while the military dispatched a gunboat to pursue the Abu Sayyaf band, but lost them, according to Captain Jefferson Somera, a spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division.

    “We have alerted troops and government militia forces in Basilan about the group of Jamiri. They were told to stay alert and take precautionary measures to pre-empt hostile enemy plans,” Somera told The Manila Times.

    He said there were no casualties in the military operation, but the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center said two minors who were among a group of 70 picnickers were injured in the airstrikes on Kalang Sibubong. It said the victims were residents of Al-Barka town.

    The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center said the two victims were part of an Arabic school picnic organized by their teachers. “The victims sustained various injuries to their bodies. They were taken to St. Peter Hospital in Lamitan City for emergency medical treatment. One of the injured was already sent home while the other is still recovering at the hospital,” it said in a report obtained by The Manila Times.

    “The picnic was composed of students and teachers as well as parents. There were 70 persons who joined the picnic, as well as other civilians who were also in the beach but not part of the school excursion. According to the parents of the students, their children were traumatized by the incident. Witnesses estimated that the air strike lasted for about 30 minutes and that the shells fell around 30 meter from them,” the report said.

    A government official of Lamitan, who also volunteers for the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center, immediately phoned a military commander to stop the air strike as soon as he received a frantic call from the picnickers. AL JACINTO

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