ZAMBOANGA CITY: The military said it had killed at least four jihadists and wounded a senior Abu Sayyaf leader in continuing offensives in Lanao del Sur, one of five provinces under the restive Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.
It said a Malaysian fighter allied with the Maute group was believed killed in the assault in Butig town where security forces were pursuing Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon who was also injured in the military operations.
Security officials said troops failed to recover the cadavers of those slain in the offensive and claimed the reports came from intelligence sources, including civilians in the area. The military had been engaged in propaganda and psychological warfare with militants, who are being supported by villagers.
Hapilon’s group and other local jihadists have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and vowed to put up a caliphate in the mineral-rich Mindanao, which was once under the rule of sultanates.
Troops were sent to the province to hunt down Hapilon, who managed to escape a massive military operation in Basilan only to link up with the Maute group whose leaders are brothers Otto, Abdullah and Omar Maute.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Hapilon, who is also the local chieftain of the Islamic State in the Philippines, was believed to have arrived in Lanao del Sur in December last year to further strengthen the unity of various jihadist groups fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, also ordered its forces to help authorities hunt down Hapilon and the Maute brothers.
The MILF, which signed an interim peace deal with the government in 2014, had been previously accused by the military of providing sanctuary to Indonesian and Malaysian jihadists, especially members of the Jemaah Islamiya.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday appealed to the MILF and its rival group Moro National Liberation Front not to provide shelter to the jihadists and warned their leaders that he would order the police and military to pursue the fighters inside their territories in Mindanao.
The killing of the jihadists in Mindanao was announced as experts warned of the possibility of extremists launching cyber attacks.
Jihadists have yet to shut down a power grid, paralyze a transport network or banking system or take over a key industrial site from afar, but experts say the threat of such a cyber attack should be taken seriously.
Analysts fear that while extremist groups may not have the necessary skills themselves, they could hire someone else to wreak havoc.
“Digital attacks with major impacts are unlikely in the short term,” said Guillaume Poupard, head of France’s digital security service ANSSI, speaking to AFP at an international cyber security conference in Lille, France.
“However, that could change very fast. Our real fear, and we may already be there, is that they will use mercenaries, people who will do anything for money,” Poupard said.
The Islamic State group, Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups are so far using the internet mainly for propaganda and recruitment purposes.
WITH AFP REPORT