MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Southeast Asian militant is suspected of leading an ambush that killed an army intelligence officer in the southern Philippines, Philippine military officials said Wednesday, highlighting the danger still posed by foreign militants who have been on the run from U.S.-backed counterterrorist offensives.
Suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen with Amin Baco, a young terror suspect believed to be from either Indonesia or Malaysia, killed one of three army intelligence officers who traveled by motorcycle to remote Ungkaya Pukan town in Basilan province Tuesday to check the reported presence of armed men near a village, army brigade commander Col. Carlito Galvez said.
Shortly after the ambush, Baco's group fled and clashed briefly with other army troops near a river in Ungkaya Pukan before escaping into a jungle, an army report said, adding that reinforcement troops aboard a truck and van helped pursue the militants but lost sight of them.
Baco is one of several Southeast Asian terror suspects who have taken refuge over the years in the southern strongholds of local militants mainly from the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group, passing on bomb-making and combat skills and helping plot attacks. But years of military offensives have weakened and kept the Filipino militants and their foreign allies on the run.
Baco, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Jihad, is a young militant who has been linked to the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah, according to Galvez.
Philippine intelligence officials say Baco stayed for years with Abu Sayyaf fighters on southern Jolo island but fled the area after a U.S.-backed airstrike targeting foreign militants killed several extremists in a mountain encampment in February last year.
He was later monitored to have joined Abu Sayyaf fighters in nearby Basilan and on the Zamboanga Peninsula, posing with armed Filipino militants in a picture taken with a cellphone that was later seized by government forces.
The Abu Sayyaf is notorious for deadly bomb attacks, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings and is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. Although U.S.-backed Philippine military operations have crippled its capacity to launch terrorist attacks in recent years, the Abu Sayyaf has survived with about 350 armed fighters and remains a serious security threat in the south.