Top Abu Sayyaf leader killed in Sulu Sea assault
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines — The top leader of a kidnap-for-ransom gang affiliated with the Abu Sayyaf group in Sulu was killed along with six others in a predawn operation by the military on Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr., commander of the Western Mindanao Command, said Mannul or Mannor Sawadjaan and his six heavily armed companions were leaving Sulare Island on a speedboat at past 1 a.m. on Tuesday when they were intercepted by government forces.
Aided by intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance equipment, an Augusta attack helicopter fired upon the gunmen after which a Navy vessel rammed their boat.
“Exchanges of fires transpired, which lasted for 25 minutes, and resulted in the sinking of the boat utilized by more or less seven ASG members,” Vinluan said, adding that the military believed the bandits were in the middle of a kidnapping attempt in Mindanao.
Following the gunfight, the ASG bandit’s boat was cut in half, and was searched for evidence, Vinluan said. “The boat was cut in half with only the front portion remaining afloat while the rear must have sunk during the ramming by the Navy ship,” Vinluan said.
“No bodies [recovered] yet, but we doubt if they can survive from a 200 feet depth of the sea overnight,” he added.
As of Tuesday afternoon, search and rescue teams were still scouring the area for the bodies of the seven gunmen.
Apart from Mannul, also aboard the speedboat was his cousin Madsmar Sawadjaan, younger brother of Abu Sayyaf bomb-maker Mudzrimar “Mundi” Sawadjaan.
Mundi has been on the run for his involvement in suicide bombings and kidnappings in Mindanao.
Mundi was also tagged as the mastermind of the twin suicide bombings in Jolo, Sulu province, on Aug. 24 this year, which killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 70 others. He reportedly trained the two widows of slain bandits to carry out the blasts near a restaurant and at a branch of the Development Bank of the Philippines.
Vinluan had said that Mundi and the two bombers were the target of the four Army intelligence officers who were gunned down on June 29 this year by policemen near the police station in Barangay Walled City in Jolo.
Mannul, according to Vinluan, assumed as emir of the Islamic State in the southern Philippines last July, replacing his aging uncle, Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan who has been considered a late bloomer in terrorism circles.
Mannul, also known as Abu Amara, was also a bomb expert who trained under Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco who was believed to have succeeded Isnilon Hapilon as the Southeast Asian emir of IS.
Vinluan said the speedboat landed in Sulare island on Nov. 2, at about the same time the military was tipped off about the departure of the Sawadjaan cousins from Basilan.
Not knowing the seven men, fishermen in the island grew suspicious about them and reported their presence to authorities.
This prompted the operation, Vinluan said.
Vinluan said the chopper and naval vessel tailed the speedboat as it left Sulare Island.
As they were six kilometers away from the island, and with confirmation it was the group of Mannul, the assault ensued, Vinluan added.
The military said the troops recovered from the remaining part of the speedboat two M4 rifles with M203, one M4A1 rifle, five backpacks with assorted items inside, two M14 long magazines, two M14 short magazines, four bandoliers, two jungle bolo, two sledgehammers, two boat paddle, two empty liquid containers, one power bank, two empty shells of M203 ammunition, and one Go Pro camera with a memory card.
Vinluan said the group was also responsible for the kidnapping of Dr. Daniel Moreno in Jolo, Sulu, last Feb. 4, 2020.
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