From The Standard (Apr 12): Army chief: Slain Moroccan was ISIS conduit
ARMY chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año said Monday the Moroccan killed in the government offensive against the Abu Sayyaf was the conduit between the bandit group and Islamic State terrorists.
“Last year, he came up on the radar of our intelligence service because he was trying to link up the Abu Sayyaf to the Middle East terrorist group,” Año said, referring to Mohammad Khattab.
Khattab, a bomb expert, has been living in the country for the last three years, Año said.
Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said Monday at least 13 more Abu Sayyaf gunmen died as the military pressed more attacks Sunday against the fleeing bandits in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan.
On Saturday, at least 18 soldiers and five bandits were killed when the Abu Sayyaf ambushed the advancing soldiers.
Padilla said bad weather prevented the Air Force from sending close air support for the ground troops that day.
Because the attack helicopters and bomber planes such as the OV-10 were grounded by bad weather, ground commanders had to rely on their artillery bombardment targeting enemy positions.
He denied public criticism that casualties could have been avoided if the troops had enough equipment and air assets during the critical moments of the battle.
The national headquarters of the military and police and all camps of the uniformed services across the country flew the flag at half-staff over the death of the 18 soldiers.
“Flags are flown at half-mast to mourn the death of our soldiers, our heroes who offered the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, last Saturday, our national Day of Valor,” Padilla said. “We fly it at half mast to honor their gallantry and sacrifice.”
On Sunday night, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri informed President Benigno Aquino III last Sunday night on the progress of continuing operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines against Abu Sayyaf and other lawless elements in Basilan after their return from Zamboanga City, Malacañang said on Monday.
“These operations were intensified since December 2015 and have resulted in neutralizing high-value terror suspects, including Malaysian Mohd Najib Hussein (a.k.a. Abu Anas), Moroccan Mohammad Khattab and Ubaida Hapilon, son of senior ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., in a statement.
“Both officials informed the President that, in accordance with his instructions, pursuit operations are still being conducted and that the troops are fully equipped and adequately supported,” said Coloma.
Eighteen soldiers were killed while six were critically wounded during a 10-hour firefight in Barangay Baguindan in Basilan’s Tipo-Tipo town Saturday.
The military said five were killed on the enemy side, including Khattab and Ubaida Hapilon, son of senior ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon.
Padilla said the terrorists attempted to behead two of the slain soldiers but were prevented from doing so.
Western Mindanao Command spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan said the wounded soldiers were all taken to military hospitals in Zamboanga City and were undergoing treatment as of Sunday.
“Military operations will continue without letup as we seek the withdrawing bandits and hold them accountable for their crimes,” he said.
“Our soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice so that the people of Basilan will be free from terrorists and secure a peaceful and bright future for their next generation,” he added.
On Friday, police in Zamboanga City arrested a close relative of the Abu Sayyaf chieftain, Hapilon.
Criminal Investigation Detection Group Director Victor Deona identified the ASG member as Bantong Basinti, uncle of commander Hapilon, who was involved in the kidnapping of plantation farmers in Basilan province.