Foreigners seen in clash with troops
A Marine officer on Friday said foreigners believed to be Malaysians were among the gunmen that soldiers fought back in an attack on a Marine camp in Sulu last Sunday and in what could be a validation of reports that local terrorists have merged with the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
One of the Malaysians, according to 2nd Lt. Arnel Arieta, was killed in the two-hour gunfight. At least 15 people, including two soldiers, were killed in the clash in Talipao, Sulu.
“There were four Malaysians (among the terror suspects),” said Arieta, executive officer of the 30th Marine company and among the survivors of the clash.
Rommel Banlaoi, chair of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR), said the information about the presence of Malaysians in Talipao was true.
“The presence of Malaysian jihadists in Sulu is true. Around 30 Malaysian jihadists are in Talipao, some are in Barangay Bato Kabang,” Banlaoi said by phone.
Brig. Gen. Romeo Tanalgo, chief of the Task Force Sulu Island, confirmed receiving reports about the presence of Malaysians in Sulu. He said among the gunmen that clashed with soldiers last Sunday were former members of the Moro National Liberation Front and members of the Abu Sayyaf.
No visual contact
Tanalgo, however, said he hasn’t “actually seen” any of the Malaysians.
Col. Jose Johriel Cenabre, deputy commander for Marine operations of the Naval Forces in Western Mindanao, said while he could not be categorical about the presence of Malaysians in Sulu, one of the suspects slain in last Sunday’s attack “did not appear to be a Filipino.”
Sonny Abing, spokesperson of the Sulu provincial government, said five of the 13 slain suspects have been identified by relatives and buried in a village in Jolo, the Sulu capital, last Monday or a day after the clash.
Colonel Cenabre said authorities have identified six of the slain suspects as Salip Jainal, Crispin Sanadji, Innu Sadjari, Alsid Bassir, Akman Badda and Bassar Abbur. “Seven others remain unidentified, including the foreign-looking guy,” he said.
The report on the presence of Malaysians among terrorists in Sulu came a few days after a Singapore-based security expert, Rohan Gunarathna, was quoted as saying the Abu Sayyaf, a Basilan and Sulu-based crime group, had merged with JI. Cenabre said last Sunday’s clash “could be an indication of that.”
Rear Adm. Alexander Pama, Philippine Navy flag commander, said he believed that the relationship between Abu Sayyaf and JI was one of “tactical alliance.”
Pama said it was still debatable whether or not Abu Sayyaf and JI have merged because “there seems to be some aspects on doctrines of both groups that may not be necessarily congruent.”
Banlaoi, of PIPVTR, said although he could confirm the presence of Malaysians in Sulu, “I don’t agree with the merger hypothesis.”
“I subscribe to the view that ASG and JI personalities in Mindanao are working closely together,” he said.
Another source, however, said the gunmen that stormed the Marine base in Talipao last Sunday belonged to a previously unheard of group called Awliyah. Followers of Awliyah, according to Ustadz Murshi Ibrahim, MNLF secretary general, are believers of Sufism, an Islamic doctrine involving mystic practices.
Last Sunday’s assault on the Marine base in Talipao was the first known act of violence attributed to a combination of former MNLF members and Abu Sayyaf bandits.
But on Monday, the same combination of forces clashed with soldiers in Sumisip, Basilan, according to Brig. Gen. Gerardo Layug, deputy chief of the Western Mindanao Command.
Chief Supt. Felicisimo Khu, head of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations in Western Mindanao, said the Basilan clash, however, was related to a long standing family feud, not terrorism.
MNLF’s Ibrahim said the emergence of Awliyah indicated growing impatience over government failure to honor the terms of the 1996 peace agreement between the MNLF and the government.
He said the government failure to fully implement the peace deal was the main reason “there is no final resolution yet to the problem in Mindanao.” Reporting by Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao, in Zamboanga City and Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao, in Davao City
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