Armed Forces doubts ISIS hand in Basilan attack

Camille Diola (Philstar.com) - April 14, 2016 - 12:54am
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 2 4:28 p.m.) — Maryland-based company SITE Intelligence Group on Wednesday night (Manila time) revealed the Islamic State's "first official communique" on attacks in the Philippines where ISIS claims to have killed nearly 100 troops in ambushes.
SITE, which stands for Search for International Terrorist Entities, sourced the statement from Amaq News Agency run by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
On Thursday, news agency Reuters also reported that ISIS claimed to be behind the deaths of 23 soldiers in an encounter with Mindanao-based militants on Basilan island on April 9.
"With the grace of god we were able to detonate seven trucks carrying soldiers," an ISIS statement said, as quoted by Reuters. It was not clear, however, what kind of explosives were used for the detonation.

Just a hype

A military official, however, dismissed the claim as possible fabrication or propaganda hype. 
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said the figures claimed by ISIS in the Reuters report does not add up to the data they have on the ground.  
Although there were casualties on the military side, Tan said the number was only at 18 and not 23 as claimed by the terror group. 
“If you read the report they did not name the people who were involved there and if they have linked with here (Basilan),” he added. 
“The question is, who is the source of the report or video and the one who posted it. Is he reliable and really came from Daesh?”
Nevertheless, Tan said they are taking the reports seriously, and that they will look deeper into the claims.

Deadliest single-day encounter

The assault was the deadliest single-day encounter between ISIS-linked Abu Sayyaf militants and government forces this year.  At least five militants, including a Moroccan bomb expert Mohammad Khatttab, were killed, the military said.
The major offensive against more than 100 rebels targeted Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon, who has publicly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and has been hunted for years for his alleged role in several terrorist attacks, military officials said.
Washington has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to Hapilon's capture and prosecution.
A large number of casualties were reported as the Philippines marked the Day of Valor Saturday to remember Filipino veterans who died in World War II.
"After we grieve for our soldiers, we shall continue the fight," Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and the military said in a joint statement earlier this week.
Army chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano said the military aims to "finally destroy the Abu Sayyaf, especially now that we have found the exact location of the group."
The continuing offensive led to the deaths of 27 Abu Sayyaf bandits as of Wednesday morning. — with reports from Roel Pareño and the Associated Press

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