Military checking if top Malaysian terrorist survived
The Armed Forces of the Philippines is trying to validate intelligence information that a top Malaysian extremist survived the defeat of an Islamic State-linked siege on Marawi City and is helping restart efforts to establish an extremist alliance, a military official said.
The commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, said troops were trying to validate reports that Amin Baco is wounded during the siege but managed to escape to Sulu, where he was hiding with Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) terrorists.
Yusop Jikiri, central committee chair of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which has a peace treaty with the government, said that his group received information that Baco is being protected by Abu Sayyaf commander Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the Malaysian militant’s Filipino father-in-law, in the mountains of Sulu’s Patikul town.
Sawadjaan is a notorious kidnapper linked to several abductions of foreign tourists.
“We also got that information and we’re validating it,” Sobejana said. “Our efforts against this group have been relentless.”
Abu Amri Taddik, chief of MNLF intelligence, said Baco was involved in renewed efforts to establish an IS-linked alliance of several groups including the ASG.
A Sulu-based ASG commander, Yassir Igasan, is a key candidate to succeed Isnilon Hapilon, who led an emerging IS-affiliated alliance in Southeast Asia until he was killed when government troops crushed the five-month Marawi siege in October, Taddik said.
Body never found
Military officials had said that Baco was among the militants killed in Marawi although his body was never found.
A longtime rebel fighter who has served as Sulu governor and later as a congressman, Jikiri heads one of two major factions of the MNLF and had organized nearly 400 fighters to help the military combat kidnappings and terrorism.
“We’d like to clean the name of Sulu and the Tausugs,” Jikiri said, referring to Sulu’s dominant ethnic group. “I hope the Abu Sayyaf will stop kidnappings and all sort of criminalities to avoid any more bloodletting.”
Sobejana welcomed the rebel move and said arrangements were being finalized to determine how the guerrillas could help troops.
“What is clear is they are already providing us with information,” he said. —AP
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