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Saturday 24 February 2018

Militant commander killed in clash with soldiers in Philippines resort

The Philippine army took part in a gunfight with Abu Sayyaf militants that left at least nine people dead (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
The Philippine army took part in a gunfight with Abu Sayyaf militants that left at least nine people dead (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Troops in the Philippines have killed a senior militant commander blamed for the beheadings of two Canadians and a German hostage.

Military chief of staff General Eduardo Ano said the Abu Sayyaf rebel leader Moammar Askali died in a clash with government forces on the resort island of Bohol.

He said troops have recovered the remains of Askali, who also used the nom de guerre Abu Rami, and was apparently attempting another kidnapping mission.

The soldiers took photos of the dead men, and he was identified by captured Abu Sayyaf militants.

Five other Abu Sayyaf gunmen were killed in the fighting on Tuesday, along with four soldiers and policemen.

Gen Ano said: "T his is a major blow to the Abu Sayyaf. If they have further plans to kidnap innocent people somewhere, they will now have to think twice."

The military chief said Askali had led several militants who travelled by speedboats from their jungle lairs in southern Sulu province to Bohol province in an apparent bid to carry out another kidnapping in a region that is popular for its beach resorts.

Sporadic gunfights between the remaining Abu Sayyaf militants and government forces continued on Wednesday, military officials said.

The fighting in Bohol is far from the extremists' southern jungle bases and in a region where the US government has warned that the gunmen may be plotting kidnappings.

National police chief director general Ronald dela Rosa said troops and policemen attacked the gunmen early on Tuesday in Inabanga, where the gunmen had arrived aboard three boats.

T he gunmen took cover in three houses as the firefight broke out.

Government forces seized control of two of the houses, and the rest of the gunmen either were in the third house or had fled the area, Mr dela Rosa said.

It is the Abu Sayyaf's first known attempt to carry out ransom kidnappings deep in the heartland of the central Philippines.

Bohol island, where one of the world's smallest primates, called tarsiers, are found, drawing many tourists, is about 400 miles from Manila.

Abu Sayyaf militants have crossed the sea border with Malaysia on powerful speedboats and kidnapped scores of foreign tourists in past years.

In 2001, they sailed as far as western Palawan province, where they seized 20 people, including three Americans, from a resort.

"If we were not able to monitor this and engage them with our government forces, it's a cause for alarm if they were able to carry out kidnappings," Mr dela Rosa said.

The US embassy in Manila recently advised Americans to take precautions amid "unsubstantiated yet credible information" of possible kidnappings by terrorists in Bohol, nearby Cebu province and other central areas.

The US and the Philippines have separately blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organisation for bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings.

Some Abu Sayyaf commanders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered troops to destroy the extremists in Sulu and in outlying island provinces.

He has threatened to declare martial law in the country's south if the threat posed by Abu Sayyaf and other extremist groups aligned with IS gets out of control.

Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded two Canadians last year and a German hostage earlier this year after ransom deadlines lapsed.

They are still holding at least 29 captives in Sulu's jungles, many of them foreign tugboat and cargo ship crewmen seized at the sea border between the southern Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.


Press Association

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