A weeklong offensive against the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Al Barka, Basilan killed 26 bandits and three soldiers, the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) reported on Sunday.
Westmincom spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan confirmed in a report that Malaysian jihadist Mohammad Najib Hussein alias Abu Anas was among those killed on Tuesday, the third day of skirmishes between the bandit group and government troops.
The military has identified the slain soldiers as Capt. Vincent Cordero, the commanding officer of 8th Scout Ranger Company; Private First Class Marctan Tirambulo of the 1st Scout Ranger Company; and Staff Sergeant Jesus Tuting of the Marines Special Operations Group.
Hussein is a 38-year-old Malaysian bomb-maker associated with the Islamic State (IS).
Malaysian news website The Star Online cited Hussein as the key figure in the IS’ Black Flag cell of Universiti Malaya professor, Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, alias Abu Handzalah, who has been hiding with the Abu Sayyaf in southern Philippines.
According to the Westmincom report, heavy fighting erupted at around 5:00 a.m., Tuesday, when soldiers belonging to the Marine Special Operations Group, Army Scout Rangers and Special Forces, were engaged by a group of about 60 armed bandits under ASG leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Furuji Indan.
The encounter initially resulted in the death of 13 Abu Sayyaf men and three soldiers.
Fighting continued until Sunday when the troops captured the ASG encampment located in Sitio Bohe Libi and Sito Bohe Buug in Barangay Macalang, also in Al Barka.
In a statement, Tan said the encampment has approximately 28 structures including 10 dug-in bunkers that can accommodate up to 250 people.
The troops were conducting clearing operations when an improvised bomb exploded resulting in the wounding of twelve soldiers.
Bodies of the slain ASG bandits have not been recovered.