Philippines Military Reports Killing 3 Abu Sayyaf Suspects

BenarNews staff
Zamboanga, Philippines
2021-04-23
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Philippines Military Reports Killing 3 Abu Sayyaf Suspects Philippine soldiers carry a body from an explosion site on Jolo Island, Aug. 24, 2020.
AP

Two brothers of an Abu Sayyaf commander were apparently killed Friday along with another militant during clashes in Sulu province in the far southern Philippines, ground commanders said. 

The siblings were nephews of Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the presumed late leader of the Islamic State extremist group’s Philippine branch, and brothers of Abu Sayyaf Group sub-leader Mundi Sawadjaan. Mundi is wanted in connection with bombings in the south but he evaded the military dragnet during a firefight on Jolo Island and faded into the jungle, officials said.

Soldiers recovered the bodies of Mujafal “Jhapz” Sawadjaan and another ASG member identified as Muktihar Taha in jungle areas in Patikul, a remote town on the island, the military said. Mujafal’s younger brother, identified as Al-al Sawadjaan, was believed killed in a separate clash on Jolo, but his body was not recovered.

“The clashes started in the morning and led to the casualties,” said Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, head of the Joint Task Force Sulu. 

One unit also spotted a fleeing Abu Sayyaf militant, which led to another firefight. One group, Gonzales said, was led by Mundi Sawadjaan, but he escaped capture.

“We have received initial reports indicating that Mundi’s youngest brother Al-al Sawadjaan was neutralized during today’s encounters,” Gonzales said. “All our forces are on high alert as we continue to hunt for Mundi Sawadjaan.” 

Mundi has been identified as the mastermind of twin suicide bombings that killed 14 people in August 2020 in Jolo town, the provincial capital. 

Officials have said the bombings were in retaliation for the July 2020 death of Mundi’s uncle, Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, a senior Abu Sayyaf militant and the acknowledged head of the Islamic State in the region. The military has not publicly announced the elder Sawadjaan’s death because his body was not recovered. 

Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan masterminded a January 2019 bombing at Jolo’s Catholic church, killing 23 people including an Indonesian couple blamed for the suicide attack, according to Philippine authorities.

The Sawadjaans are members of an Abu Sayyaf faction allied to Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the region’s IS affiliate who led the siege of Marawi and died shortly before government troops regained control of the city in October 2017. The five-month siege resulted in the deaths of about 1,200 militants, security forces and civilians.

Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan succeeded Hapilon as the region’s IS leader.

While Abu Sayyaf militants continue to mount attacks, the military believes it has fewer than 200 fighters concentrated in the parts of the Deep South. The group has been blamed for bombings and beheadings along with kidnappings for ransom.

Military officials have said foreign militants were believed to be involved with Abu Sayyaf, noting that an Egyptian militant and two Abu Sayyaf fighters were killed last week. In addition, authorities have reported arrests of foreigners in the past for suspected terror links.

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales in Cotabato, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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