Philippine security forces killed two suspects during a clash with Abu Sayyaf militants on southern Jolo island, including a man who allegedly played a role in a church bombing that left 23 dead in January, the military said Tuesday.
A nearly one-hour firefight ensued when troops with the 41st Infantry Battalion who were on foot patrol late Monday afternoon encountered a group of Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Patikul, a remote town on Jolo, officials said.
One of the two suspects confirmed killed in the gunbattle was identified as Barak Ingog, who allegedly facilitated the bombing at Jolo’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
“The firefight lasted for 40 minutes, supported by indirect fire and close air support, resulting in the neutralization of Barak Ingog, one of the facilitators of the bombing of the cathedral in Jolo,” regional military spokesman Col. Gerry Besana said.
The military identified the other slain suspect as Nasser Sawadjaan, a nephew of overall Abu Sayyaf leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan. Intelligence operatives believe that Nasser’s uncle is the new regional leader of the Islamic State branch in the Philippines, succeeding Isnilon Hapilon who was killed two years ago during the battle of Marawi.
Brig. Gen. Rey Pabayo, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu, said three soldiers also suffered shrapnel wounds during the firefight, but were out of danger.
A third senior Abu Sayyaf militant may have killed as well in Monday’s clash, but his death could not be immediately confirmed by troops conducting clearance operations, Paboyo said.
“We also received information from residents in the area, who are also monitoring and reporting the whereabouts of the bandits … that they overheard that another high-value ASG sub-leader is missing and probably dead,” he said.
The Philippine military has been relentlessly pursuing Abu Sayyaf bandits in different locations on Jolo. Last week, an Indonesian hostage of Abu Sayyaf died while a compatriot and a Malaysian were rescued in a major operation that left seven militants dead.
However, the Malaysian, Jari Abdullah, who was shot and wounded during his rescue on April 4, died Tuesday at a hospital in the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga, after doctors, with the consent of his mother, took him off life support, military officials said.
“We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families of Abdullah. Our troops are exhausting all efforts to defeat the Abu Sayyaf and bring justice to the victims of terror,” Lt. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega, chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said in a statement.
The three men were snatched in December near Pegasus Reef, in the nearby eastern Malaysian state of Sabah, and later taken to Jolo. The Abu Sayyaf are believed to still be holding several local and foreign hostages on the island.
Nearly four years ago, the Abu Sayyaf beheaded two Canadian hostages and a German captive after their governments refused to pay ransoms.
Abu Sayyaf factions in other parts of the south have also been blamed for violent acts, including a car bombing on the southern Philippine island of Basilan that left 11 people dead in July last year.
“We are saddened by the death of rescued Malaysian captive Jari Bin Abdullah. We further commiserate over the loss suffered by his bereft family and friends,” Col. Besana said in a statement late Tuesday.
“On our part, we commit to intensify our counteroperations to pound Abu Sayyaf militants and to rescue remaining captives in Sulu.”
Zam Yusa in Sabah, Malaysia, contributed to this report.