Philippine Police: Senior IS-linked Militant Dies in Shootout

BenarNews staff
Zamboanga, Philippines
Philippine Police: Senior IS-linked Militant Dies in Shootout A general view of the port in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, which was devastated in a five-month battle in 2017 between government forces and IS-linked militants, April 10, 2018.
Richel V. Umel/BenarNews

A suspected militant and close associate of the slain Islamic State branch leader in the Philippines was killed in a shootout with police in the south, authorities said.

Arrasid Adjing Halissam (also known as Guru Ara), a suspect wanted in connection with bombings and kidnappings in the southern Philippines, was shot dead when he resisted arrest by firing at officers as they moved to serve him with a warrant in Zamboanga City, regional police chief Brig. Gen. Ronaldo Genaro Ylagan said.

“During the law enforcement operation the suspect opened fire on the operating unit using his caliber .45 pistol that prompted the police forces to retaliate and neutralize the target,” Ylagan said.

Intelligence operatives from the nearby Sulu Islands – a hotbed of militant activity – and Special Action Force commandos launched the raid before dawn, Ylagan said.

Their mission was to capture the suspect, who was a militant with a “notorious” record, according to the regional police chief. Halissam was traced to a safehouse in a village close to the military’s Western Mindanao Command, which is based here.

According to a police report, Halissam was “the trusted man of slain international terrorist, ISIS-ASG Leader Isnilon Hapilon and was the facilitator of late Malaysian International Terrorist Zulkifli bin hir a.k.a Marwan.”

The report was referring to Islamic State (IS) by another acronym and to the Abu Sayyaf Group, a Philippine militant group aligned with the international terror organization.

In 2014, the late Isnilon Hapilon together with Guru Ara pledged their allegiance to the ISIS wherein Hapilon was later on pronounced as the “Emir” (leader) of Islamic State (IS) in the Philippines,” according to an excerpt from the report that was included in a statement posted Tuesday on the Facebook page of Philippine National Police.

Arrasid Adjing Halissam (also known as Guru Ara) is pictured in an undated photo released by the Philippine military. [Handout/Western Mindanao Command]

Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf commander and the Philippine chief of IS, led a five-month militant takeover of the southern city of Marawi before he was killed in action toward the end of the siege in 2017.

Marwan was killed during a raid by Philippine police commandoes in Mamasapano, a municipality in southern Mindanao province, in January 2015. At the time of his death, Marwan was wanted by authorities in the United States because he was a main suspect in twin bombings that killed 202 people in Bali in 2002 – Indonesia’s deadliest terror attack to date.  

After Hapilon’s death in Marawi, Halissam moved to the Sulu Islands, the report said.

Halissam was suspected of being involved in atrocities committed by militants in the south, including a bombing that killed two people and injured 52 others at a bus terminal in Zamboanga on Jan. 23, 2015, the national police said.

He was also suspected of facilitating Indonesian suicide bombers who carried out a twin bombing that killed 23 people at a church in Jolo, the capital of Sulu, in January 2019, police said.

Ylagan said Halissam was wanted, too, for high-profile kidnappings in the south, including of American citizens Gerfa Yeatts Lunsmann and Kevin Lunsmann in July 2011, when they were visiting an island off Zamboanga City.

Gerfa was released while her son managed to escape by trekking through the jungle on Basilan Island for two days.

Citing declassified intelligence records, Ylagan said Halissam had been listed since 2018 as belonging to one of the terror cells affiliated with the Abu Sayyaf.

Tuesday’s operation took place amid persistent intelligence reports that the militants were preparing to carry out fresh attacks in the south, he said.

Of particular concern is an Abu Sayyaf unit controlled by Mundi Sawadjaan, a bomb-expert and the nephew of Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who succeeded Hapilon as the Philippine IS leader but is also believed to have been killed during an encounter with the military. His body was never recovered to prove that claim, although it is believed that the nephew has taken over militant operations after Hatib’s death.

Philippine authorities tagged Mundi as the mastermind of the attack on the Jolo church two years ago, as well as another twin suicide bombing that killed 15 people in the same town last year.


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