By Francis Wakefield, Agence France-Presse and MB Online
Abu Sayyaf group leader Isnilon Hapilon, said to be the head of the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s elements in Southeast Asia, was seriously wounded in an airstrike in Butig, Lanao del Sur, the Armed Forces of the Philippines announced on Saturday, January 28.
“[Hapilon] is still being carried by four men in a makeshift stretcher moving northeast of Butig,” defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters in a briefing in Quezon City. “Troops are in hot pursuit supported by ground artillery and air support.”
Lorenzana added the military offensive killed four of Hapilon’s companions, including an Indonesian identified as alias Mohisen.
“This (report on Hapilon being wounded) is also confirmed by various sources in the ground,” said Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP’s Public Affairs Office chief.
Hapilon, 50, was indicted in the U.S. for his involvement in the 2001 kidnapping of three Americans at the Dos Palmas resort in Palawan by Abu Sayyaf, the notorious kidnap-for-ransom gang in the southern Philippines.
One of the kidnapped Americans, Guillermo Sobero, was beheaded in Basilan while another, Martin Burnham, died in the crossfire with the military in a 2002 rescue operation. Burnham’s wife, Gracia, was wounded.
A senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf, Hapilon has pledged allegiance to IS and was endorsed as the group’s “amir for Southeast Asia,” based on a 2016 report by the Jakarta-based think-tank Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.
He is in the “most wanted terrorist list” of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and now has a $5-million bounty on his head.
The military earlier said a number of Abu Sayyaf fighters and terrorists from the Maute Group were either killed or wounded following airstrikes in Butig on Wednesday night.
Arevalo said the terror groups reportedly sustained major casualty with a number of them dead or seriously wounded from the airstrikes and artillery rounds accurately landing in the identified locations of the terror groups.
After learning about the development, AFP chief of staff General Eduardo Año assured ground troops of the AFP’s all-out support to them as part of his commitment to significantly defeat the terror groups in Western Mindanao by the end of June 2017.
“He afforded operational commanders hand-picked personnel, equipment and capabilities necessary to attain this mission that the president and commander-in-chief Rodrigo Duterte wants accomplished,” Arevalo said.
Lorenzana earlier told reporters that Philippine security forces have found links between terrorist groups based in Lanao del Sur and the Islamic State, with Hapilon’s IS links confirmed after monitoring communication between the two groups.
Citing intelligence monitoring, the defense chief said Hapilon transferred from his base in Basilan to Lanao del Sur in December 2016, reportedly upon the instruction or “behest” of IS people in the Middle East to establish a terror organization.
“That’s the report we received, allegedly on the behest of the ISIS people in the Middle East to find out if Central Mindanao is conducive to the establishment of an organization,” Lorenzana said. “According to the report, Basilan and Jolo are too small that’s why they can be easily cornered so they are looking for a bigger area.”
Tags: Abu Sayyaf, AFP, airstrike, ASG leader Hapilon ‘wounded’ in Butig airstrike, Butig, FBI, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Islamic State, Isnilon Hapilon, Lanao Del Sur, Manila Bulletin, most wanted, operation, terrorist, US