KIDAPAWAN CITY: Local and foreign jihadists, calling themselves Jundul Khilafah (JK) or soldiers of the caliphate, claimed responsibility for the attack in Basilan on Saturday.
In owning up to the attack, the group said three of their brothers – Muhammad Khattab Al-Maghribi Al-Muhajir, Wilson Asbi Al-Ansari and a certain Abu Ubaydah Al-Basilaniy – whom they described as martyrs, were confirmed killed in the skirmishes.
In their forum website, the JK said many were also wounded from their side, including their commander Abu Dujana, who sustained slight wound in the forehead.
They also claimed to have recovered from fallen soldiers one dozen of M4 rifles and a 90mm recoilless rifle.
The attack occurred at about 8 a.m. in Sitio Bayoko, Barangay Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo town of Basilan province, in the troubled Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
A nine-hour firefight ensued that lasted until about 4 p.m., when the attackers fled towards different directions in 10 groups.
At least 18 troopers were killed, while more than 50 soldiers were wounded in the firefight.
The soldiers, belonging to the 44th Infantry Battalion, the 4th Special Forces Battalion, and 14 Cavalry units – were attacked while conducting military operations against the ASG headed by Isnilon Hapilon and Indama.
The army recovered the body Asbi and Khattab, wearing a black shirt with IS logo print.
In their recent videos, the group said the ASG has been divided into two factions – Harakatul Islamiyah in Basilan and Jundul Tawhid in Sulu. The JK had aligned themselves with the IS, which declared an Islamic caliphate state in Syria and Iraq in June 2014.
The militants in Basilan are headed by Isnilon Hapilon, while Sulu jihadists are being led by Malaysian national Mohd Amin Baco.
Last month, Baco appeared in a video released online by IS’s Al-Furat Media Foundation, pledging allegiance to the IS’s self-proclaimed caliph along with dozens of young Filipino militants.
“We Jundul Tawhid, affiliate of the ASG, are joining Abu Abdullah al-Filibini [or Isnilon Hapilon]under Jundul Khilafah in the Philippines and under the vision of Khilafah Islamiyah that are following the leader and caliph of Muslims Al-Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Qurashi,” Baco said as he read a script written in the Arabic language.
Baco has been in the country for years and traveling in different parts of Mindanao.
He was sighted in Maguindanao together with Zulkifli Bin Hir alias Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman and other members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), prior the infamous Mamasapano tragic operation in January 2015.
He was first seen in Lanao del Sur with the militant group Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), now known as Dawlah Islamiyah or Islamic State in Lanao, being led by Abdullah Maute alias Abu Hasan.
Baco’s recent video succeeded another video last January of his fellow national Mohd Najib Husen alias Abu Annas Al Muhajir, division head of the Ansar al-Sharia of the IS.
Husen was killed in Basilan when his forces engaged with the military last December. The IS’s Al-Furat Media Foundation confirmed his death.
Husen had witnessed the “official” pledge of allegiance of Hapilon’s group to the IS.
Baco and Husen were with Mahmud Ahmad, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee and Jeknal Adil, who fled to the Southern Philippines in 2014.
The Malaysian government has been tracking their whereabouts because of their ties with the IS and for recruiting militants to join their cause.
Baco, Hapilon and Maute were named commanders after IS hinted last year that it was planning to expand its caliphate in the Southeast Asian region.
No public pronouncement has been made by the leaders of the groups of the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM), the Ansarul Khilafah in Sarangani (AKS) and the BIFF in Maguindanao, but they were believed to be headed by Ahmad Santos, Ismael Abubakar and Muhammad Jafaar Maguid, respectively.
All the groups had unified their cause to the black banner of the IS after they vowed support to the IS.