In Maguindanao, two days of air raids, artillery shelling and a ground assault on a terrorist stronghold in the hinterlands of Shariff Saydona Mustapha killed 20 fighters, including some high-value targets, said Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.
Sobejana could not yet ascertain whether Singaporean Jihadist Muhamad Ali Abdul Rahiman, alias Mauwiyah and Salahudin Hassan, both leaders of the Daulah Islamiya, were among those killed.
During the campaign, Sobejana said assaulting ground troops met stiff resistance but the terrorists were overwhelmed by a bomb run that forced them to retreat.
One soldier died from enemy fire.
In Lanao del Sur fighting, two members of the IS-linked Maute group and two soldiers were killed in a battle that lasted hours in Barangay Padas in Pagayawan town Monday afternoon.
Col. Romeo Brawner, commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade, said the two dead terrorists wereAbu Jihad and Abu Tahir who were part of the 24-man contingent under Maute chieftain Abu Dar.
The Palace on Tuesday said it would take measures to prevent ISIS from turning the Philippines into a base for its operations.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Palace remains “definitely concerned” about the terrorist group’s activities in the country, especially those involving establishing a foothold in Mindanao.
Panelo’s remark came after the New York Times reported that the Islamic State group is “rising” in the Philippines as its fortunes dwindle in the Middle East.
“Across the islands of the southern Philippines, the black flag of the Islamic State is flying over what the group considers as its East Asia province,” the New York Times’ article released on Saturday said.
“Men in the jungle, two oceans away from the arid birthplace of the Islamic State, are taking the terrorist brand name into new battles,” it added.
The report also pointed out the recent terrorist attacks that rocked several parts of Mindanao in early 2019.
The report also said the Islamic State has sprouted in the southernmost region of the country and took Mindanao as a “haven for insurgents because of dense wilderness and weak policing.” In this way, the Islamic State has attracted a range of militant jihadists, it added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenza shrugged off the report, saying it was just an opinion.
“That’s just speculation,” Lorenzana told the Manila Standard in a text message.
Last month, Interior Secretray Eduardo Año said Abu Sayyaf Group sub-unit commander Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan remains the recognized overall leader of the Islamis State-linked groups in the country.
He said, however, that Sawadjaan was not the replacement of Isnilon Hapilon as the “emir” of the Islamic State terrorist group in Southeast Asia. Hapilon was killed in military operations in October 2017.
President Rodrigo Duterte has declared an all-out war against the ASG, an ISIS-inspired militant group following the bombing of a Catholic church in Jolo, Sulu. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
READ: Troops launch simultaneous drive against Sulu bandits
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