Philippines checks if key Malaysian extremist survived siege

AP News
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Posted: Jan 17, 2018 5:18 AM

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine troops are trying to validate intelligence information that a Malaysian militant leader survived the defeat of an Islamic State group-linked siege and is helping restart efforts to establish an extremist alliance, a military official said Wednesday.

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said troops were trying to validate reports that Amin Baco was wounded during the siege of southern Marawi city but managed to escape to Sulu province, where he is hiding with Abu Sayyaf militants.

Rebel leader Yusop Jikiri of the Moro National Liberation Front, which has a peace treaty with the government, told The Associated Press that his group received information that Baco is being protected by Abu Sayyaf commander Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, the Malaysian militant's Filipino father-in-law, in the mountains off Sulu's Patikul town. Sawadjaan is a notorious kidnapper linked to several abductions of foreign tourists.

"We also got that information and we're validating it," Sobejana said. "Our efforts against this group have been relentless."

Abu Amri Taddik, the rebel intelligence chief of Jikiri's group, said Baco was involved in renewed efforts to establish an IS-linked alliance of several groups including the Abu Sayyaf.

A Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf commander, Yassir Igasan, is a key candidate to succeed Isnilon Hapilon, who led an emerging IS-affiliated alliance in Southeast Asia until he was killed when government troops crushed the five-month Marawi siege in October, Taddik said.

Military officials had said that Baco, who was hiding in the southern Philippines for years, was among the militants killed in Marawi although his body was not found.

A longtime rebel fighter who has served as Sulu governor and later as a congressman, Jikiri heads one of two major factions of his rebel group and had organized nearly 400 fighters to help the military combat kidnappings and terrorism.

"We'd like to clean the name of Sulu and the Tausugs," Jikiri said, referring to Sulu's dominant ethnic group. "I hope the Abu Sayyaf will stop kidnappings and all sort of criminalities to avoid any more bloodletting."

Sobejana welcomed the rebel move and said arrangements were being finalized to determine how the guerrillas could help troops.

"What is clear is they are already providing us with information," he said.

The United States and the Philippines have separately blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for its involvement in kidnappings for ransom, beheadings and bombings.