THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is verifying if Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), is already dead, as President Rodrigo Duterte wanted when he ordered the bombing of the jihadist’s lair three months ago.
On Monday, Duterte said he hopes that Hapilon was killed when the AFP conducted air strikes on his hideout.
“The President said he believes Hapilon might be dead because the latter was seriously wounded and no word from him was heard since then. There are raw reports but we still have no confirmation that Hapilon is really dead. Operations against his group will continue in Lanao provinces and Basilan,” in southern Mindanao, said AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año when asked on the pronouncement of the President.
According to the AFP chief, the last report that he heard about the ASG leader was in February when he was reportedly seen being carried by four jihadists as they transfer from one temporary base to another in the hinterlands of Butig in Lanao del Sur.
In late January, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed that Hapilon had moved to Central Mindanao on orders from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS to find out if the region is conducive to the establishment of an ISIS group.
Citing intelligence reports, the Defense chief bared that the ASG had communication with ISIS, which instructed the local terrorist group to look for a bigger place to establish an ISIS group because their current strongholds – Sulu and Basilan – are too small and they could be easily crushed by security forces.
Hapilon was monitored to have brought a small group of his men.
The bulk of ASG members are still in Basilan, according to Lorenzana.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., AFP spokesman, said as of Tuesday, the military had no information on the fate of Hapilon after the January air strikes.
“We will continue ongoing efforts to ascertain this,” he added. FERNAN MARASIGAN