MANILA (Reuters) - The suspected mastermind of the deadly 2002 Bali bombings has likely given thousands of Philippine troops the slip, forcing them to shift their hunt to another island in the remote south of the country.
Lieutenant-Colonel Bartolome Bacarro said on Tuesday there were strong indications Dulmatin, a leader of regional Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), had escaped Jolo island and moved to a smaller nearby isle despite a naval blockade.
“I cannot disclose his exact location but there had been sightings of Dulmatin somewhere in the western Mindanao area,” Bacarro told reporters, four days after the militant’s four children were found on an island in the southernmost tip of the archipelago.
“Our troops are confident they are on the right track.”
Dulmatin’s children, aged from two to nine years, were discovered on Simunul island when soldiers raided a suspected rebel hideout after a tip from local residents.
Dulmatin was not at the camp but army officials have said privately he was likely nearby.
The militant, who has a $10 million bounty on his head from the U.S. State Department, is a senior member of JI, a militant network that seeks an Islamic superstate in parts of Southeast Asia.
Philippine security officials have said Dulmatin and another suspect in the Bali bombing, Umar Patek, were part of a group of up to 10 JI members hiding on Jolo and training local Muslim militant group, Abu Sayyaf, in bomb-making.
Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for the worst militant attack in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country, the 2004 bombing of a ferry near Manila which killed more than 100 people.
The 2002 attack on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali, blamed on JI, killed 202 people, many of them foreign tourists from Australia.
Since August, about 8,000 soldiers, backed by U.S. advisors and equipment, have been deployed on Jolo to flush out about 400 Abu Sayyaf rebels and their JI allies.
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.