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Manila: Key terror suspect killed

Al-Ghozi
Al-Ghozi belonged to a group with strong suspected ties to al Qaeda.

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(CNN) -- Indonesian terror suspect Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi, whose July prison escape embarrassed the Philippine government, has been killed in a gun battle with Filipino troops, officials said.

The Muslim militant's death eliminates a major potential security threat just six days before U.S. President George W. Bush visits Manila.

Al-Ghozi had admitted being a member of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a Southeast Asian guerrilla group with strong suspected ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

He was shot Sunday by members of a special task force searching for him, Philippine National Police Chief Hermogenes Ebdane said.

The shootout occurred after troops who had been monitoring Al-Ghozi's movements since Saturday flagged down two people riding in a vehicle on a highway in northern Cotabato Province in the southern Philippines, Ebdane said.

Instead of stopping, the two fired on the troops, leading to an exchange of gunfire. One of the vehicle's occupants, identified as Al-Ghozi, was wounded and pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. The other man escaped in heavy rain.

Al-Ghozi escaped from national police headquarters in Manila in July.

A Philippine court sentenced him to 17 years in prison for illegal possession of explosives and falsifying documents. Al-Ghozi also was accused of planning bombings that killed 22 people in Manila in December 2000.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, fearing another possible round of terrorist violence in her country, ordered Ebdane to lead the search for Al-Ghozi and two members of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf who escaped with him.

The army killed one of the men who fled with al-Ghozi and recaptured the other last week.

Al-Ghozi was arrested in January 2000. In the course of their investigation, authorities recovered 1.2 tons of explosives they said was slated to be used in a JI bombing plot.

JI is blamed for the two nightclub bombings that killed 202 people on the Indonesian island of Bali exactly one year ago. Thousands of mourners paid tribute Sunday to the Bali victims. (Full story)

JI also is believed to be responsible for the August bombing at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 people.

Al-Ghozi was trained in Afghanistan, then returned to Southeast Asia to be an explosives expert for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim separatist group in the Philippines. MILF was accused of harboring Al-Ghozi after his prison escape.

CNN Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa contributed to this report


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