ZAMBOANGA CITY: Government forces on Monday clashed with Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) terrorists at the town of Al-Barka in Basilan, a known stronghold of the notorious group tied to the Islamic State.
The military’s Western Mindanao Command confirmed the fighting, which started before sunrise, but there were no immediate reports of casualties from both sides.
Details of the clashes were also limited but other reports said troops were pursuing the group of a senior Abu Sayyaf leader – Nurhasan Jamiri – tagged as behind numerous ransom kidnappings in Basilan and Zamboanga Peninsula.
It was unknown whether the military operation was connected to reports that the rebel group has executed German yachter Jurgen Kantner, who was kidnapped at sea off Tawi-Tawi province last November.
His wife – Sabine Merz, 56 – was killed by the rebels. The woman’s naked body was found by soldiers on the boat. A shotgun was also recovered near her body.
The military tagged ASG sub-leader Muamar Askali as behind the kidnapping who originally demanded P500 million in ransom for Kantner’s safe release.
The jihadists’ demand was contained in a video released last February 14 on Telegram Messenger where it showed Kantner pleading to his government to save his life.
The military said it also received reports of Kantner’s beheading but officials would not confirm this unless his body is found.
In April 2014, Askali’s group also kidnapped two German yachters – Stefan Viktor Okonek, 71, and Henrike Diesen, 55 – while heading to Sabah from a holiday in the Philippines and demanded P250 million in ransoms in exchange for their lives.
Askali originally demanded from Germany, on top of the ransoms, to cease all support to a US coalition campaign against the Islamic State, which is fighting for a caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
The duo was freed six months later after the German government paid the ransoms delivered by Filipino security officials.
The Abu Sayyaf is still holding about two dozen Malaysian, Indonesian and Vietnamese sailors kidnapped since last year in Sabah, Malaysia, and Basilan province.
The ASG, formed by Ustadz Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani in 1992 in Basilan, continues to recruit members to fight the government in their attempt to set up a strict Islamic caliphate in Mindanao.
Janjalani was killed in a gunbattle with the police in Basilan in 1998.
Since then, the group has recruited hundreds of members in the Muslim autonomous region and the military had failed to stop the growing influence and violent campaigns of the terrorist group because it did not sustain combat operations needed to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf in the restive Mindanao region.