• Troops kill Sayyaf sub-leader in Basilan

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    Government troops killed an Abu Sayyaf sub-leader and his follower in a violent clash that left five soldiers and two militiamen wounded in Basilan province on Good Friday.

    The three-hour fighting killed Eric Ajibun and one of his men in Sitio Luglugi, Macalang village in Al-Barka town where Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces – which signed an interim peace deal with the Aquino government in 2014 – clashed with the Abu Sayyaf.

    Major Filemon Tan, spokesman of the Philippine Army’s Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) said that Ajibun is a known expert in making improvised explosive device (IED) and has been responsible in the series of bombings against government forces and business establishments in Basilan. Their bodies had been recovered by soldiers.

    The wounded infantrymen, members of the 4th Special Forces Battalion under Colonel Andrew Bacala Jr., and the pro-government militias were treated for shrapnel wounds from grenades fired by Ajibun’s group. They were identified as Technical Sgt. Reynaldo Pagba, Privates First Class (Pfc.) Eric Caturan, Raul Guialil, Edev Malaran and Welmer Mallorca; and militias 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 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 by 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 the “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) 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 gained notoriety for having carried out kidnappings, bombings and other criminal activities in southern Philippines. The US government has offered a $5 million bounty for Isnilon Hapilon’s head – dead or alive.

    WITH ANTHONY VARGAS

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