MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine military stepped up security on Friday in expectation of revenge attacks by Moro rebels after an air strike killed 15 al Qaeda-linked militants, officials said.
The Philippine military said among those killed in a pre-dawn strike on a rebel camp on Thursday were at least 2 members of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI), a Southeast Asian group behind the 2005 bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali that killed 202 people, many of them foreign tourists.
The air strike on Sulu island was planned after the military got reports that 30 militants, including some JI members, had arrived there in December.
"We have already prepared for any probable retaliation," Major General Noel Coballes, head of the army's Western Mindanao command in the south of the country, told reporters.
"We have alerted our units," he said. "They have just raised their security level, they intensified a little the measures they normally have in place."
Remote, Muslim parts of the southern Philippines have become a haven for militants from around the region who have found shelter with Philippine Muslim rebels who have been battling the government of the Christian-majority country for decades.
The military said on Thursday among those killed was a Malaysian bomb-making expert, Zulkipli Bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Singaporean Muhammad Ali bin Abd Al-Rahman, or Mauiyah, who they identified as part of the JI network and a former member of the Singaporean military with the rank of major. The United States had put up a $50,000 reward for his capture.
But Singapore's Ministry of Defense said Al-Rahman was not a former major nor had he been a regular member of the armed forces.
A third senior militant killed in the air strike was a top official of the Philippine rebel group Abu Sayyaf, Gumbahali Jumdail, or Dr Abu, the Philippine military said.
Military officials dismissed doubts the three had been killed even though their bodies were not recovered because comrades removed the dead after the strike.
The southern Philippines is a focus of the U.S.-led international campaign against militancy, launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and several hundred U.S. soldiers are in the region helping train Philippine forces.
Philippine officials also denied media reports that U.S. forces had used a P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft to help plan the air strike.
Leslie Basset, U.S. deputy ambassador to the Philippines, told reporters during a visit to the south the death of the militants would be a serious set-back for them.
"If the reports are confirmed, it marks a very serious blow against transnational terrorism," Basset said.