By Roy Ramos and Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines
A mayor in the Philippines’ Muslim south expressed concern Friday that militants from the island province of Sulu have arrived in neighboring Basilan to support fellow members of the Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf during a military offensive.
The mayor of Basilan’s Ungkayan Pukan town told Anadolu Agency that fighters from Sulu appeared on the shores of neighboring Tipo-Tipo town before the eve of Eid al-Fitr, which began Wednesday in the Philippines, and helped their Basilan comrades in harassing soldiers.
"The soldiers countered the [militants’] sniper attack with heavy mortar shelling and other high caliber guns, resulting in the wounding of nine militants,” Jomar Maturan said of the clashes in Tipo-Tipo in past days.
“I haven't gotten information on the casualties on the military side. Nightly, troops shell Abu Sayyaf positions.”
Maturan said the heavy shelling had forced hundreds of families to flee their homes and take shelter with relatives in Ungkaya Pukan.
“We are appealing to the government to help us with food for the civilians," he stressed.
In a separate interview, the governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) -- of which Basilan and Sulu are part -- said he believes the military and police can undermine the Abu Sayyaf with the help of local government units and residents.
“We have to stay united and solid to finish the lawless elements,” Mujiv Hataman underlined.
The Philstar news website quoted Hataman as confirming that an Abu Sayyaf member was captured at an army checkpoint Friday in Al-Barka town while trying to evade the military offensive launched against militants under leaders Puruji Indama and Isnilon Hapilon.
Hataman said the suspect claimed to be from Zamboanga Sibugay province, located outside ARMM, confirming that militants in Basilan were being reinforced.
Meanwhile, Western Mindanao Command’s spokesman, Major Filemon Tan Jr., told reporters in Zamboanga City that government troops have surrounded Tipo-Tipo’s municipal hall, where Hapilon’s men reportedly tried to capture and raise the Daesh flag.
Hapilon is the acknowledged leader of the Abu Sayyaf faction based in Basilan and appeared in a video last year pledging allegiance to Daesh.
A $5 million bounty has been placed on him by the United States government for the kidnapping in 2001 of American missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham, and fellow American Guillermo Sobero.
Sobero was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf and Martin was killed in crossfire during a rescue operation.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.