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Son of senior Sayyaf leader killed in MILF ambush in Philippines

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Muslim rebels, who signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014, shot and killed a son of a key Abu Sayyaf leader in an ambush Wednesday in Basilan province in the troubled Muslim region in Southern Philippines, military reports said.

It said about 10 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front attacked a group of Abu Sayyaf fighters under Isnilon Hapilon and killed his son Haipa near an MILF base. The ambush sparked a 10-minute, but ferocious firefight in the village of Macalang in Al-Barka town, a stronghold of the MILF.

MILF gunmen also seized Haipa’s automatic weapon before heading back to their village in Guinanta, also in Al-Barka.

The Abu Sayyaf fighters were reported to be trying to set up a camp in the area which the villagers and the MILF strongly opposed before being challenged by the jihadist group.

Just recently, President Aquino visited the province and inaugurated the completed 135-kilometer circumferential road, but not after Abu Sayyaf fighters attacked patrolling troops and exploded a grenade and an improvised explosive in Sumisip town.

There was no immediate statement from the MILF about the clash, but both groups had repeatedly engaged in violent confrontation in the past over control in restive province.

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 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 evolved to a notorious group known 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.

In the video, Hapilon was shown with Abu Harith Al-Filibbieni , who is reported to be deputy commander of the al-Ansar Infantry Division of the ISIS, and Mohd Najib Husen (Hussein) alias Abu Annas Al Muhajir, a division head of the Ansar al-Sharia of the ISIS.

The rebels explained in the video that they had previously done the bayah, but did it again in front of their new leaders. It was unknown when the video was recorded, but it was released just after the military’s Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City claimed in December last year that Husen was killed during offensive operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.

Husen was with other Malaysian jihadists – Mahmud Ahmad, Muhammad Joraimee Awang Raimee, Amin Baco and Jeknal Adil – who fled to southern Philippines reportedly to recruit militants and send them to “Dar al-Harb (place of war),” referring to Syria and Iraq, where the ISIS established its own caliphate state.

The Abu Sayyaf is now using the Daesh flag and also the Khilafah Islamiyah Movement and other radical groups in Lanao del Sur, also in the Muslim autonomous region where local militants of the Ghuraba (Strangers) – both the Ghuraba and Khilafah Islamiyah Movement are headed by a leader called Humam Abdul Najid, who was implicated in the 2013 Cagayan de Oro City bombings. (With reports from Ely Dumaboc and Moh Saaduddin)

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