An aide to Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged local leader of the Islamic State, was arrested in the southern Philippines and authorities captured three suspected extremist militants who fled the fighting in Marawi City, military officials said Monday.
Hamsi Amajad Marani, considered a bomb expert by authorities, was arrested on Saturday in a predawn operation in Zamboanga city, 427 km (266 miles) southwest of Marawi, where government troops are locked in four weeks of vicious gun battles with Islamic State- (IS)-inspired militants.
“The subject is a notorious member of the Abu Sayyaf and is a trained bomber by an Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) bomb expert,” the military said in a statement. Bomb-making materials were recovered when he was captured.
Additionally, troops recovered about 11 kilograms (five pounds) of packed methamphetamine hydrochloride (locally known as “ice” or “shabu”) allegedly left behind by gunmen, in what the army says was a proof that the militants were engaged in drug dealing.
Blamed for Bali bombing
JI was al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian front and was blamed for a 2002 bomb attack in the Indonesian resort island of Bali that left more than 200 dead, many of them western tourists.
Since then, JI has largely disbanded, but many members were believed to have penetrated regional militant groups, including the Abu Sayyaf, a small terror group in the southern Philippines that specializes in beheading hostages, bombings and attacks.
One of its leaders, Hapilon, along with the previously unknown Maute group, took over large parts of Marawi on May 23, triggering intense clashes that have killed 62 security forces and 257 militants. Twenty-six civilians have been killed, while 24 other people have died from diseases in overcrowded evacuation centers, officials said.
Military official said Hapilon is holed up in Marawi with his men, backed by foreign fighters.
“The capture of Marani will, somehow, cripple any possible support being given by Marani to Hapilon as he struggled to leave Marawi for safety,” said Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Western Mindanao Command.
On Friday, government troops rescued one of six Vietnamese sailors held captive by the Abu Sayyaf in the jungles of Basilan, an island southwest of Marawi.
Hoang Vo, 26, and five other Vietnamese sailors were seized aboard their boat off the island of Basilan in November.
Vo apparently escaped from his captors while government forces were pounding a suspected Abu Sayyaf camp with airstrikes and artillery. Military officials said they could not immediately ascertain the situation of the other Vietnamese sailors.
The Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding 26 captives, 21 of whom are said to be in the neighboring island province of Sulu and five are in Basilan. The group beheaded a 70-year-old German captive in February and two Canadians last year, after their governments refused to pay ransom.
Since January, the military said it has killed 83 Abu Sayyaf militants in offensives meant to crush the group’s southern strongholds.
Full story: BenarNews
Ritchel V. Umel, Froilan Gallardo and Dennis Santos
Iligan City, Philippines
Copyright ©2017, BenarNews. Used with the permission of BenarNews.