DOZENS of foreign jihadists were among the Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf members under Isnilon Hapilon who left their home base in a bid to establish an Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold in southwestern Mindanao, a military source said Sunday.
The terrorists composed of Indonesians, Malaysians, and Middle-Eastern nationals were sighted in the rugged terrain of Lanao del Sur last month, the source added.
The area where Hapilon and his men have sought sanctuary lies within Camp Busra, the main camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The area is being used by jihadists for training, the source said.
Meanwhile, Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said security forces are applying “intense pressure” on the group of Hapilon to carry out President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to decimate the ASG.
Hapilon was critically wounded in an artillery attack while four of his companions, including an Indonesian identified only as Mohisen, were killed during the skirmishes with Army troopers on the outskirts of Butig, Lanao del Sur two weeks ago.
Mohisen brings to three the number of Indonesian jihadists killed in Mindanao in separate clashes with security forces in Lanao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat last year.
Several military operations are also taking place in Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu to neutralize the ASG, the Maute group and other terrorists groups, Año said.
“The ongoing operations in Lanao del Sur, targeting Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute brothers are being done simultaneously not only to put pressure on this group, but to reduce their capacity to fight and their will to fight,” Año said.
So far, the ASG has suffered 10 members killed in fierce fighting with Marines troops on Capual Island, Omar town in Sulu last week.
An estimated 14 battalions of composite troops are currently deployed in Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu in a search and destroy operations against the group of Hapilon and its sub-leaders.
The Armed Forces expects to defeat the ASG in six months, Año said.
“We are at the stage of strategic victory. The momentum is on our side, and they will lose their will to fight and eventually some of them will lie low, [while] some of them [will] surrender,” Ano said.