BASILAN PROVINCE: Government troops have killed an Abu Sayyaf sub-leader and his follower in a violent clash that left five soldiers and two militiamen wounded in this province in southern Philippines, part of the war-torn Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
The three-hour fighting on Friday killed Eric Ajibun and one of his men in Macalang village in the town of Al-Barka, where forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed an interim peace deal with the Aquino government in 2014, had clashed with the Abu Sayyaf.
The soldiers recovered the dead bodies.
The wounded infantrymen, who are members of the 4th Special Forces Battalion under Col. Andrew Bacala, Jr., and the pro-government militiamen were brought to hospital for treatment. They were all hit by shrapnel from the grenades fired by Ajibun’s group.
The injured have been identified as Technical Sgt. Reynaldo Pagba, Privates First Class Eric Caturan, Raul Guialil, Edev Malaran and Welmer Mallorca; and militiamen Usri Usman and Randel Ramirez.
Troops launched an operation dubbed “Oplan Urgent Fury 2” against the Abu Sayyaf, following deadly clashes between the MILF and the jihadist group on March 23 that killed Haipa Isnilon, son of a key Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.
MILF forces ambushed Haipa’s group, which was reported to be trying to set up a camp in the area that the villagers and the former rebel group strongly opposed.
The restive province of Basilan has become the bastion of power of the Abu Sayyaf after it pledged allegiance anew to the caliph of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and named new leaders aligned with the international Islamic extremist group.
In a propaganda video released by the Abu Sayyaf and picked up by international media, more than two dozen gunmen – including child warriors – led by Isnilon, were seen hiking in the hinterlands of Basilan while chanting “Dawlah Islamiyah” (Islamic State), after which they recited an Arabic script of bayah, or pledge of allegiance.
Isnilon, alias “Abu Abdullah,” was named as the new leader of the “Harakatul Islamiyah” (Islamic Movement), which is the new name given to the Abu Sayyaf by its founder Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, who was slain in a police shootout in Basilan in December 1998.
The Abu Sayyaf evolved into a notorious group known for having carried out kidnappings, bombings and other criminal activities in the southern Philippines.
The United States has offered a $5-million bounty for Hapilon’s head – dead or alive.
Security forces are also battling other jihadist and rebel groups in Maguindanao, Sulu and Lanao del Sur – all provinces within the ARMM. AL JACINTO