Militant Moroccan bomb expert among killed in Basilan clash

Roel Pareño - Philstar.com

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - Gen. Hernando Iriberri, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, said Sunday that a Moroccan militant who was trying to link the Abu Sayyaf with other terror groups abroad was among those killed in a firefight in Basilan the day before.

Iriberri, who came here Sunday, said the military has confirmed that Moroccan bomb-making instructor and jihadist Mohammad Khattab was killed in the encounter on Saturday. “The Moroccan terrorist wanted to organize and unite all the kidnap-for ransom-groups to be affiliated with an international terrorist organization,” he said.

He said the AFP has photos to prove that Khattab was dead.

He said Khattab was one of two foreign terrorists who had been working with the Abu Sayyaf group in Basilan.

Iriberri said the other foreign terrorist was Malaysian jihadist Mohammad Najib Hussein (alias Abu Anas), who was killed in a military offensive in Barangay Macalang, in Al-Barka town, Basilan last December.

“Khattab was part of that group in Macalang,” Iriberri said, adding the group had since moved to Tipo-Tipo, where a gunbattle left 18 soldiers dead and 56 others wounded after 10 hours of fighting on Saturday.

The intense fighting that erupted at Sitio Bayoko left five militants, including Khattab and Ubaida Hapilon, dead and 20 Abu Sayyaf fighters wounded.

Iriberri said there was no information that the Abu Sayyaf group was aided by other armed groups in the area. He said the military will investigate whether there was ‘pintakasi’ -- where groups set aside rivalries to fight against an outsider -- but said he is more concerned about the welfare of the wounded soldiers at the moment.

“Let’s not disturb...the ground troops because, at the moment, there is [an] ongoing encounter on the ground as I speak,” Iriberri said.

Iriberri, who is retiring on April 22, visited the wounded soldiers at the Camp Navarro General Hospital and awarded them medals in recognition of their bravery.

“Nakakalungkot dahil iyan ang aming sinumpaang katungkulan. We are ready to offer our lives for our people, peace and progress of our country,” he said.

Troops ambushed in Tipo-Tipo

The gunbattle erupted when about 120 Abu Sayyaf militants led by Isnilon Hapilon and Furuji Indama ambushed soldiers deployed for an offensive in Sitio Bayoko, Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesman of Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), said.

Tan said the soldiers involved in the operations were from the 44th Infantry Battalion, the 4th Special Forces Battalion and 4th Light Armor Cavalry Troop.

“Naunahan sila as they were on their way to execute their mission,” he said.

He said that government troops suffered casualties from the first volley and that some of the soldiers had been decapitated. He declined to give figures, however, saying the military is still validating reports.

“But the troops managed to retaliate and repelled the Abu Sayyaf militants from seizing the momentum,” he also said.

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