Philippine security forces have killed two suspected Abu Sayyaf extremists on southern Jolo Island, one of whom was believed to be the last remaining militant involved in a cross-border kidnapping into Malaysia 19 years ago, the military said Wednesday.
Angah Adjid, who succeeded the slain notorious Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Idang Susukan, was killed along with an unidentified follower in a clash on Tuesday near Talipao, a town on Jolo, officials said.
Special Forces troops were tracking the Abu Sayyaf group as part of an intensified operation when they caught up with Adjid and four of his followers, said Brig. Gen. Divino Rey Pabayo, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu (JTFS) and the 11th Army Division. A brief firefight broke out that led to the deaths, he said.
Pabayo said the troops recovered two assault rifles, including one with an attached grenade launcher, as well as eight rounds of M203 ammunition, assorted magazines loaded with ammunition and personal belongings.
The military said Adjid, whose name was on the military’s “periodic status report list of targets,” had been identified as the last remaining Abu Sayyaf sub-leader involved in the abduction of 21 tourists, including 10 Europeans, 9 Malaysians, and 2 Filipinos from the dive resort of Sipadan, situated off the nearby Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah in the year 2000.
The hostages were brought to Sulu and subsequently freed after months in captivity, after huge ransoms were paid. The Philippines has officially kept mum on the ransom payments, but reporters who covered the crisis at the time had given accounts about huge amounts of money being transferred in black bags.
The Sipadan hostage crisis thrust the Abu Sayyaf onto the world stage, and while key ring leaders of that kidnapping spree were later slain or captured, the mass abduction established the Filipino militant force’s reputation as a brutal gang.
Emboldened by their success, the Abu Sayyaf would launch another kidnapping raid on Dos Palmas, an island in Palawan province that is a popular tourist draw. This time, they seized 20 hostages, including three Americans, two of whom were later killed.
Another militant suspect slain
Meanwhile, another suspected Abu Sayyaf member was also killed on Tuesday, when government troops captured a lair in the jungle of Basilan, officials said. The troops assaulted the position of an Abu Sayyaf unit in Ungkaya Pukan town, leading to the casualty.
The Abu Sayyaf group retreated but one of their fighters, identified as Adama Sarakil, was slain, according to the military. Sarakil is a lieutenant of Furuji Indama, the Basilan leader of the Abu Sayyaf following Isnilon Hapilon.
Hapilon, later recognized as the regional head of the extremist group that calls itself Islamic State (IS), was slain in 2017 after leading a consortium of Filipino, Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern fighters in taking over the city of Marawi.
The troops who overran the lair recovered the remains of Asarakil and discovered the two makeshifts camps of the Abu Sayyaf group.
The soldiers also recovered the M-16 assault rifle of the slain militant in the area.
The military has intensified its operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and Jolo following the Jan. 27 bombing of a Catholic Church on Jolo that left 23 dead.
The military had blamed Abu Sayyaf commander Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan as the mastermind behind the bombing, which was reportedly carried out by an Indonesian couple, according to the military.
Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cotabato city, Philippines.