Abu Sayyaf fatalities up to 24
THE FATALITIES on the Abu Sayyaf side rose overnight, but their leaders remain alive, with one of them “critically wounded.”
This is the latest update on the continuing clashes between the Armed Forces and the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which broke out over the weekend in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, and took the lives of 18 soldiers and left more than 50 wounded.
In a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo Tuesday, AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla confirmed that 24 ASG members have already been killed in the clashes—a significant increase from the 13 reported on Monday.
The government casualty count remains the same, said Padilla, and the six soldiers reported “critically wounded” are already in stable condition.
Padilla reported no significant engagements since the weekend. He said the military has started utilizing “artillery fire in known ASG positions” in the clash sites.
He attributed the increased fatality count in the Abu Sayyaf to its fighters succumbing to the wounds and injuries that they sustained in the initial encounter with government troops on Saturday and Sunday.
However, the number of bodies retrieved by the military since Saturday has remained at only two—including that of Moroccan terrorist Mohammad Khattab. The other body has yet to be identified.
At noon Tuesday, the military initially reported 25 killed on the Abu Sayyaf side, including Furuji Indama, known as the right-hand man of ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon.
Padilla clarified two hours later that Indama was only “critically wounded,” based on reports from the ground.
It was a near-hit for a high-value target. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Indama’s “neutralization” was important to “weaken threats.”
Padilla said Indama was Hapilon’s “trusted lieutenant,” and the leader of various ASG subgroups.
However, in an interview with the media on the sidelines of the turnover of new aircraft at the Air Force headquarters at Villamor Airbase Tuesday, Gazmin said the bigger accomplishment was the earlier confirmation of the killing of bomb-maker Khattab.
“We lessened the risk of transferring the technology to make bombs. [In fact], he was wearing a vest lined with explosives [when his body was retrieved],” Gazmin said in Filipino.
“Our heroes sacrificed 18 lives in exchange for the safety of a larger number of civilians,” Padilla said.
Gazmin confirmed reports that Khattab was in the country “to unify all the terrorist groups here and link them with the international terrorist network.”
He did not confirm if Khattab was part of the terrorist Islamic State (IS). Padilla said Khattab’s possible IS link was still being “validated.”
“We recovered a lot of data and material we can study closely, from which we can glean the linkages,” Padilla said.
“We don’t deny there are sympathizers or groups here inspired by IS who pledged allegiance. But still, we are looking for stronger evidence and data saying they are receiving [instructions] and are linked directly to Daesh,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gazmin said that after ceremonies in Zamboanga last Sunday, most of the slain soldiers were sent to their “home bases” and families, mostly around Mindanao, and that they would be receiving honors in their respective areas.
Padilla added that the benefits for the soldiers’ surviving families were being “fast-tracked.”
Gazmin said that rumors that information had been led to the ASG—leading to the high number of soldiers killed—would be looked into.
But he dismissed allegations that prior coordination with the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with which the government signed a peace agreement, led to the possible leak. “It’s part of the mechanism. You really have to coordinate [with them]. We’re not at war with them,” he said.
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