ZAMBOANGA CITY - A key Philippine Islamist militant chased by the United States avoided capture after Filipino special forces raided his remote island hideout, a military spokesman said Friday.
The major assault on Sacol island failed to find Abu Sayyaf leader Khair Mundos and his deputy Puruji Indama, said regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang.
"They have escaped from the island," he told reporters.
Helicopter gunships fired at least seven rocket rounds at suspected Abu Sayyaf positions on Sacol on Thursday before special operations forces went in search of Mundos' 15-member group.
No casualties were reported in the operation, which took most of the day.
The Abu Sayyaf have been blamed by the military for the worst bombing attacks in the Philippines as well as for kidnappings and killings of Western targets, Christian missionaries and ordinary citizens.
The US government has offered a $500,000 reward for the capture of Mundos, who is wanted on terrorism charges and who the Federal Bureau of Investigation describes as a "key leader and financier" of Abu Sayyaf.
He was arrested with US help and charged in 2004 for allegedly arranging the transfer of funds from Al-Qaeda to the Abu Sayyaf, funds the US alleged were later used in bombings and other criminal acts in the Philippines.
He escaped from prison in 2007.