Philippine president praises security forces for killing terror suspect Al-Ghozi

Monday, October 13th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines (AP) _ Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited a morgue Monday to look at the bullet-ridden body of one of Asia's most-wanted terrorists and praised security forces for gunning him down.

Indonesian-born Fathur Roman Al-Ghozi, who was regarded as a bombmaking expert, had been convicted of explosives possession, confessed to deadly bombings in Manila, and was accused of plotting terror attacks by the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

He escaped from police headquarters three months ago, embarrassing Arroyo and her government, who are strong supporters of the U.S.-led war on terror.

The confirmation of Al-Ghozi's death gives Arroyo a badly needed victory ahead of a visit to the Philippines Saturday by close ally President Bush.

National police chief Hermogenes Ebdane said Al-Ghozi was shot to death Sunday after he and his companion opened fire on a joint police-military team that tried to stop their vehicle near Pigkawayan town.

Local police, however, denied any shooting took place at the location.

National Security Adviser Roilo Golez denied speculation that Al-Ghozi had been arrested earlier and killed while in custody, possibly to prevent him from talking about his jailbreak, which was reportedly arranged by corrupt officers.

The ABS-CBN TV network broadcast pictures of Al-Ghozi's nearly naked corpse in a morgue. Arroyo flew to the southern Philippines to take a personal look at the body while wearing a surgical mask.

An Indonesian diplomat in the southern Philippines said he was negotiating to have the remains repatriated.

``The death of Al-Ghozi signals that terrorism will never get far in the Philippines and that the long arm of the law will eventually get them,'' Arroyo said in a statement. ``This event should lift much of the anxieties of our people.

``I would like to commend all military and police forces involved,'' she said.

Financial markets reacted positively. Philippine shares closed at their highest level in 18 months.

``It's a step forward in terms of getting terrorist organizations in Southeast Asia under control,'' Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

But Downer cautioned that even with Al-Ghozi dead, ``I don't ever want to say the risk is gone. The risk is there.''

The Phillipine air force said Monday the U.S. military has deployed Orion P3 surveillance planes to scour jungles for al-Qaida-linked guerrillas who pose a threat to American counterterrorism trainers.

Deployment of the long-range spy planes began two weeks ago with surveillance flights over the southern island of Mindanao as part of better security for U.S. forces there, air force spokesman Maj. Restituto Padilla said.

The Orions are manned by U.S. Navy personnel and will remain in the country indefinitely, Padilla told The Associated Press. They were able to deploy only recently, after American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan eased, he said.

Navy Capt. Dennis Williams, a U.S. Pacific Command liaison officer in Manila, said the U.S. aircraft were deployed at the Philippines' request, primarily to provide intelligence for Manila's war on terrorism.

More than 1,000 American soldiers last year trained and armed Filipino troops battling Abu Sayyaf guerrillas on Basilan, crippling and driving the rebels away from the southern island. The al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf has gained international notoriety for kidnapping foreigners and killing some captives.

Al-Ghozi was serving a 12-year prison sentence when he slipped out of the heavily secured police intelligence building on July 14 with two suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf, another al-Qaida-linked terrorist group, setting off fears of new attacks.

The Indonesian Muslim militant had admitted involvement in a series of five bombings on Dec. 30, 2000, in Manila that killed 22 people and wounded more than 100.

He was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty on a separate charge of explosives possession. Al-Ghozi, 32, led Philippine police to a ton of TNT that officials say was intended for planned attacks in Singapore on Western targets.

Ebdane said Al-Ghozi was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital with gunshot wounds to his chest, both arms and one side of his body.

``It was just unfortunate that when the troops flagged down the vehicle, instead of stopping, they fired at our troops and there was a brief shootout,'' Ebdane said. He said Al-Ghozi fired two shots, and that police later recovered a .45-caliber pistol from him.

The other man traveling with Al-Ghozi was able to escape in the darkness and heavy rain, he said.

Al-Ghozi's identity was confirmed by fingerprints, Ebdane said.

However, the police chief of Pigkawayan town, where Ebdane said Al-Ghozi was gunned down, denied there was any gunfire in the area at the time, or that Al-Ghozi was fatally shot there.

``Definitely there was no encounter. There was no exchange of fire,'' Suyom said by telephone.

Suyom said he responded to a call by a man who claimed to have heard gunshots in Pigkawayan, but found nothing. He said no police or military unit had coordinated with him.

Asked to explain the discrepancy, Ebdane said there was ``no time'' to coordinate with local police. He said security forces acted on an intelligence tip that gave them the description of Al-Ghozi's vehicle.