4 jihadists believed killed in military assault in Philippines
MARAWI CITY – Philippine military said it had killed at least 4 jihadists and wounded a senior Abu Sayyaf leader in continuing offensives in Lanao del Sur, one of 5 provinces under the restive Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.
It said a Malaysian fighter allied with the Maute group was believed killed in the assault in Butig town where security forces were pursuing Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon who was also injured in the military operations.
Security officials said troops failed to recover the cadavers of those slain in the offensive and claimed the reports came from intelligence sources, including civilians in the area. The military had been engaged in propaganda and psychological warfare with militants, who are being supported by villagers.
Hapilon’s group and other local jihadists have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and vowed to put up a caliphate in the mineral-rich Mindanao, which was once under the rule of sultanates.
Troops were sent to the province to hunt down Hapilon, who managed to escape a massive military operation in Basilan only to link up with the Maute group whose leaders are brothers Otto, Abdullah and Omar Maute.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Hapilon, who is also the local chieftain of the Islamic State in the Philippines, was believed to have arrived in Lanao del Sur in December last year in an effort to further strengthen the unity of various jihadist groups fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state.
The rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front which is currently negotiating peace with Manila also ordered its forces to help Philippine authorities hunt down Hapilon and the Maute brothers.
The MILF, which signed an interim peace deal with the government in 2014, had been previously accused by the military of providing sanctuary to Indonesian and Malaysian jihadists, especially members of the Jemaah Islamiya.
President Duterte has appealed to the MILF and its rival group Moro National Liberation Front not to provide shelter to the jihadists and warned their leaders that he would order the police and military to pursue the fighters inside their territories in Mindanao.
Malaysian authorities also launched a massive manhunt for a former university lecturer turned militant leader accused of spiriting fighters from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Malaysia into Mindanao to establish an Islamic Caliphate alongside other jihadist and rebel groups in southern Philippines.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said police were working closely with their counterparts in the Philippines to track down former Universiti Malaya lecturer and militant Dr Mahmud Ahmad, according to Malaysian media reports.
Mahmud was allegedly tasked by the Islamic State with arranging for the safe passage of recruits. Khalid said militants may be using the sea route in Tawau in Sabah to cross into southern Philippines.
Security forces are also fighting the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Ansarul Khilafah, Khilafah Islamiyah Movement, Al-Khobar Group, including so-called rogue MILF rebels, among other smaller groups sympathizing with Islamic State. (With a report from Rhoderick Beñez)