Militant's death in gunfight is 'big blow to Abu Sayyaf'

Albader Parad is best remembered as head of a faction of the Abu Sayyaf group who demanded a ransom last year for the release of the Red Cross workers.

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MANILA // A young, brash militant who gained notoriety after posing for cameras with three Red Cross hostages became the latest casualty of US-backed Philippine military assaults that have slowly eliminated the country's most wanted terrorist suspects. Albader Parad is best remembered as head of a faction of the Abu Sayyaf group who demanded a ransom last year for the release of the Red Cross workers - a Swiss, an Italian and a Filipino. All three were freed after months in jungle captivity despite threats to behead them.

A special operations platoon on Sunday crawled within 30 metres of a forest hut on southern Jolo Island and opened fire after receiving intelligence that Parad and the group's senior leader, Umbra Jumdail, were meeting, military officials said. At the end of the hourlong gunfight, Parad and five other militants, including Mr Jumdail's brother, lay dead. Parad's body was later identified by four civilians, said the regional military commander, Lt Gen Benjamin Dolorfino. A marine also was killed.

"This will be a big blow to the Abu Sayyaf," Gen Dolorfino said yesterday. "He was the most visible among the leaders. The fear of the people for the Abu Sayyaf is represented by the face of Albader, which always comes out in newspapers." The Abu Sayyaf is blamed for the country's worst bomb attacks, kidnapping sprees and for beheading some of its hostages during the past two decades. Abu Sayyaf, which means "father of the swordsman" in Arabic, was founded in 1991 in Basilan province with suspected funds from Asian and Middle Eastern radical groups, including al Qa'eda. It came to US attention in 2001, when it kidnapped three US citizens, two of whom were later killed, and dozens of Filipinos. The violence prompted Washington to deploy hundreds of troops to train Philippine forces and share intelligence, driving military operations that have neutralised the most prominent leaders one by one.

Out of the 24 original leaders and militants, about half a dozen remain at large. The rest are dead or in jail. Abu Sayyaf's oldest, ailing commander, one-armed Radulan Sahiron, has not been seen since a 2008 clash. Only two other influential leaders remain - Mr Jumdail, an ideologue also known as Dr Abu Pula, and Isnilon Hapilon, who carries a US reward of US$5 million (Dh18m) for his capture. "There are no young leaders emerging," Gen Dolorfino said.

Parad was reported to have amassed more than $400,000 from a string of earlier abductions, some of which was invested by relatives in passenger transport and coconut farmlands. The Philippine National Red Cross chairman, Richard Gordon, who talked to Parad by phone until he persuaded him to release the Red Cross hostages, blamed poverty and lack of government support and job opportunities for driving people like Parad to join militants.

"He said that all he wanted was for the troops to withdraw, and he never harmed the hostages," Mr Gordon said. "Obviously, people who live like that will hold the knife by the blade, not by the heel." * Associated Press