Philippine Military Kills 7 Abu Sayyaf Suspects in High Seas Shootout

BenarNews staff
Zamboanga, Philippines
2020-11-03
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201103-PH-abu-sayyaf-620.jpg Philippine troops try to retrieve a sinking speedboat that had carried seven suspected Abu Sayyaf militants who were killed in a clash off Sulare Island in the southern Philippines, Nov. 3, 2020.
Handout Western Mindanao Command

Government troops killed seven suspected Islamic State-linked militants in a predawn firefight during a high-seas chase off the Sulu islands in the southern Philippines, the military said Tuesday.

Two of the suspects slain in the fighting off Sulare Island were identified as Madsmar Sawadjaan and Mannul Sawadjaan, senior members of the Abu Sayyaf Group, officials said. Madsmar was the brother of Mudzimar “Mundi” Sawadjaan, an ASG member who is wanted for plotting a twin suicide bombing on nearby Jolo Island in August.

“It was like in an action movie,” said Lt. Col. Herbert Dilag, head of the Joint Task Force Sulu unit, which spearheaded the operation.

He said the firefight broke out when the Philippine Navy’s multi-purpose attack craft (MPAC), backed by an Air Force Augusta Westland attack helicopter, caught up with a speedboat carrying the militants.

“Our Augusta and MPAC fired at them. They retaliated using some high-powered firearms so a 30-minute firefight ensued. When they tried to escape, we rushed toward them and a high-speed chase took place,” Dilag said. “Finally, we rammed the speedboat as it was firing grenade launchers toward us.”

The clash led to the “neutralization of seven ASG militants,” Dilag said, adding no troops were injured during the clash.

Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, said troops had to deal with strong currents as they tried to retrieve the sunken speedboat and the bodies of the suspects.

Those killed belonged to a kidnap-for-ransom group led by Madsmar and Mundi Sawadjaan, who were plotting fresh abductions in the south, military officials said. Based in the southern Philippines, ASG is notorious for carrying out kidnappings for ransom.

The identities of the five others were not immediately released, the state-run Philippine News Agency reported.

Family ties

Mannul Sawadjaan (alias Abu Amara) was believed to be the successor to his grandfather, Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the overall Islamic State (IS) leader in the country who, authorities have said, may have been killed in a previous encounter with troops. The military has not officially confirmed the death of Hatib Sawadjaan, who took the reins of IS after Isnilon Hapilon was killed at the end of a five-month siege of the southern Marawi city by pro-IS militants in 2017.

Madsmar and Mundi Sawadjaan were Mannul Sawadjaan’s uncles, according to military intelligence.

Mundi Sawadjaan has been identified as a top Abu Sayyaf lieutenant who masterminded a double-suicide bombing that killed 15 people in Jolo town in August. He also was linked to an Indonesian couple who, authorities alleged, were being groomed to carry out new attacks in the south.

An Indonesian woman, identified as Rezky Fantasya Rullie (alias Cici), was caught during a raid last month along with two Filipinas believed to be the wives of Abu Sayyaf commanders. Authorities said Rullie, the daughter of a couple who killed 21 people and themselves in a January 2019 suicide attack targeting a church in Jolo, was being groomed for her own mission.

Authorities believe her husband, Andi Baso, was killed by troops on Aug. 29. His body has not been recovered.

Richel V. Umel in Iligan City, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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