BASILAN – Military forces have seized Sunday a huge Abu Sayyaf camp in the Muslim province of Basilan in southern Philippines as troops continue to hunt down militants and Malaysian jihadists hiding out in the hinterlands, regional governor Mujiv Hataman said.
But a homemade bomb also exploded the same day in Lamitan City although no was hurt or injured in the blast.
Hataman said soldiers recovered a cache of improvised explosives in the rebel base in Al-Barka town, scene of recent clashes that left nearly three dozen casualties on both sides.
He said security forces continue its operations in Basilan, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, following reports that Abu Sayyaf is coddling Malaysian jihadists – one of them, Mohd Hussein, was among 15 militants killed by troops in Al-Barka.
The fierce clashes also killed 3 soldiers, one of them an army captain, and wounded 20 more from both sides.
Hataman also rushed to Al-Barka following a near misencounter between security forces and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members, whose bases are also in the town. The MILF, which signed a peace deal with Manila last year, complained that troops pursuing the Abu Sayyaf had fired on their camps.
“I have talked to the MILF leaders in the area and military commanders and everything is okay now. We have signed an agreement that would allow government forces to continue the operations against the Abu Sayyaf in coordination with the MILF. We don’t want any misencounter here between two friendly forces,” he told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.
He said the military would hand over the captured Abu Sayyaf camp to the government and MILF’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.
The rebel camp was under Isnilon Hapilon, who escaped the massive military operation and is now the object of an anti-terror mission in Basilan. Troops also destroyed dozens of trenches and fox holes and bunkers inside the camp which could house some 250 people, according to Hataman.
The fighting in Al-Barka also displaced more than 1000 families from 3 villages – Macalang, Linuan and Danapa – and is being attended by social workers on Hataman’s order. A massive relief and humanitarian mission led by Hataman were held in those areas.
The military operation in Basilan involved forces from the army’s 104th Infantry Brigade – 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion, 4th Special Forces Battalion, Marine Special Operations Group, and 12th Light Armor Cavalry.
The province is also being used by the Abu Sayyaf rebels to hide foreigners and Filipinos they kidnapped from other areas in southern Philippines. Many innocent victims of the Abu Sayyaf had been killed and beheaded in the restive province of Basilan, just several nautical miles south of Zamboanga.
The fighting broke out just barely two weeks after the National Intelligence Board warned of potential attacks by terrorists in Zamboanga City and other areas in the southern region, including resorts frequented by tourists in Aklan in western Visayas, and Palawan province that forced police and military authorities to heighten security alert in those places.
Zamboanga police chief Angelito Casimiro said the city is now in red alert status due to high threats of terrorism. He said there are persistent intelligence reports of bombings and kidnappings by terror groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.
Police and military forces also captured an Abu Sayyaf member – Arasid Julayli Udjarin, alias Laih – in Zamboanga City following a joint operation over the weekend in the coastal village of Bolong. Udjarin is facing a string of kidnapping charges in Basilan.
Mayor Beng Climaco said a team of US-trained Light Reaction Company of the Philippine Army has arrived in Zamboanga to help police beef up security here.
Just last month, Philippine soldiers also killed at least 8 jihadists whose group has been linked by the military to ISIS in a fierce gunbattle in the southern province of Sultan Kudarat.
Marines clashed with members of the “Anṣār al-Khilāfah” or “Supporters of the Caliphate” in the village of Butril in Palimbang town and recovered five ISIS flags, including a .50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle, an M16 automatic rifle, a .45-caliber pistol, assorted improvised explosives, radio communication sets and various documents with intelligence value from the encounter site.
The slain rebels were believed under Mohd Jaafar Maguid, but it was not immediately known whether he was among those killed in the fighting. Anṣār al-Khilāfah was formed in Homs, Syria in January 2013 to overthrow President Bashar Hafez al-Assad and declare Sharia.
The local members of the radical group have pledged allegiance to the ISIS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in August 2014. They also released a video in August 2014 threatening to deploy suicide bombers in the Philippines and make the country a “graveyard” for American soldiers, according to a report by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group which tracks online activity of White supremacist and Jihadi organizations.
US troops are deployed in the southern Philippines since 2001 and assisting the government in fighting terrorism in the restive region of Mindanao.
Aside from Anṣār al-Khilāfah, the Abu Sayyaf group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in the southern Philippines also pledged allegiance to ISIS and vowed to put up a strict Islamic state in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)
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