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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Abu Sayyaf still a threat
Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya, right foreground
Abu Sabaya (right) is the group's best-known leader
The Philippines military has claimed to have killed a top Abu Sayyaf leader, Abu Sabaya, in what would be a propaganda coup for the authorities.

But even if confirmed, Abu Sabaya's death may not spell the death-knell for the group.

He is the chief spokesman and best-known leader of the Muslim rebel group, which is notorious for kidnapping for ransom.

Abu Sabaya and Khadafi Janjalani
Abu Sayyaf's top leader Khadafi Janjalani (right) is still at large
But other leaders are still unaccounted for - including four with a $5m American bounty on their heads.

Abu Sayyaf expert Glenda Gloria told BBC News Online that Abu Sabaya's death, if confirmed, would be a "big victory" for the government but would "not solve the whole problem".

"Abu Sabaya is known to be the most ruthless leader of them all, but there are other leaders still in hiding," she said.

The Abu Sayyaf - which says it is fighting for a separate Muslim state - is led by the reclusive Khadafi Janjalani, brother of the group's founder, Abdurajak Janjalani, who was killed by troops in 1998.

He remains a key figure said Ms Gloria, co-author of Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao. There are also other factions unaccounted for, she said.

"It's a very loose organisation," she said. "That's always been a problem for the military."

Most wanted

Abu Sabaya - who changed his name from Aldam Tilao - was the most prominent name on the US wanted-list, known for using satellite phones to call local radio stations and taunt the authorities.

A former police trainee, he used to be a member of the Muslim separatist group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), before leaving the group when it signed a 1996 peace treaty with the government.

He spent a number of years in Saudi Arabia before joining the Abu Sayyaf in 1999. He went on to lead a series of high-profile kidnappings of foreigners and Filipinos, many of whom were killed or released for ransom.

In June 2001 he announced on radio that the group had beheaded Californian Guillermo Sobero as an "independence day gift" for President Gloria Arroyo. The remains of Mr Sobero were found four months later.

Two weeks ago, two remaining US hostages were shot during a shootout between rebels and Philippine troops. US missionary Martin Burnham and a Filipina nurse were killed, but Mr Burnham's wife Gracia was rescued.

A pair of Abu Sabaya's trademark wrap-around sunglasses was found broken at the scene. He is known for always wearing black shades and a black bandana.

See also:

21 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
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29 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
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