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Hooded Gunmen Kill 4 Commuters in Philippines

About 30 hooded attackers, believed to be Abu Sayyaf militants, shot and hacked horrified victims running for their lives in the southern Philippines, police said Thursday. Four died and six were wounded in the brazen attack.

The al-Qaida-linked militants apparently were trying to divert government troops from a weekslong offensive in a nearby town, said Antonio Mendoza, police chief for the island province of Basilan.

Most of the victims were commuters in a passenger jeep going home from Basilan's capital of Isabela City. The attackers were positioned on a hill and opened fire with rifles. Two passengers died instantly and others jumped from the jeep to flee, Mendoza said.

"They were fired upon as they ran. One of the attackers hacked a 10-year-old boy, who survived," Mendoza told The Associated Press.

"We found the bodies and survivors scattered outside the jeep. It's sad, these outlaws don't have any regard for life."

The attackers fled toward a mountainous jungle, where troops were hunting them, regional military commander Lt. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino said.

The mid-afternoon attack in sparsely-populated Maluso village is the latest violence blamed on the Abu Sayyaf and its allied armed groups on Basilan, a predominantly Muslim island about 550 miles (880 kilometers) south of Manila.

About two weeks ago, Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded three loggers in a rain forest near Maluso.

Mendoza, who heads a 675-strong force, said he has sought at least 300 more policemen to better secure Basilan towns. About 100 extra police commandos were deployed to Basilan weeks ago to reinforce marines and army troops hunting Abu Sayyaf fighters.

Despite years of U.S.-backed offensives, nearly 400 Abu Sayyaf fighters have survived in Basilan and on nearby Jolo island and the Zamboanga peninsula. They remain a major security concern as part of a decades-long Muslim insurgency.

About 250 Abu Sayyaf fighters are based in Basilan. Their ranks have been bolstered by several militants who have moved from Jolo in recent months to escape intensified U.S.-backed offensives there, military officials say.

Two militants with the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah — Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, who goes by the alias Marwan, and a Singaporean known only as Mauwiyah — were among those who have fled to Basilan from Jolo, according to a military intelligence official who helps oversee counterterrorism assaults.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work.

The United States has offered a $5 million reward for Marwan's capture.

The Abu Sayyaf, founded in Basilan in 1991, is believed by U.S. and Philippine security officials to have received funds and training from Osama bin Laden's network.


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