By Jim Gomez
MANILA, Philippines — The killing of Abu Sayyaf leader Moammar Askali in Bohol this week was a clear victory for the military, but it also drove home an unsettling reality: that the militants are venturing farther from their jungle hideouts to spread terror.
Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año said that troops recovered and identified the remains of Askali at the scene of the battle in the coastal hinterlands of Bohol island. Five other Abu Sayyaf gunmen, three soldiers and a policeman also were killed in Tuesday's clashes.
"This is a major blow to the Abu Sayyaf," Año told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "If they have further plans to kidnap innocent people somewhere, they will now have to think twice."
"We are gaining important headway in our fight to degrade the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) in regard to our timeline," Año later told a news conference, referring to a military objective to considerably cripple the extremist group of more than 300 armed fighters within six months.
Former Abu Sayyaf militants identified Askali from a photo troops took of the young militant leader after his death, confirming that the gunmen who quietly cruised into Bohol on three motorboats under cover of darkness late Monday before clashing with troops belonged to the Islamic extremist group. Askali, who used the nom de guerre Abu Rami, had partly served as an Abu Sayyaf spokesman in recent years.
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