PHILIPPINE police have killed a leader of suspected sympathisers of the Islamic State group and apprehended three others in a clash after the men resisted arrest at a beach resort in the south, an official said.
Senior Supt. Leonardo Suan said Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, leader of a small armed group called Ansar Khalifa Philippines (AKP), died in Thursday’s shootout in southern Sarangani Province.
Three of his followers were arrested.
Suan said the shooting happened after police went to check reports from civilians about the presence of armed men.
Local news site Rappler quoted National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr as saying that Maguid or “Tokboy” was killed in the early hours of Thursday, marking a major success for the country’s counter-terrorism campaign.
The militant leader and his companions were reportedly intercepted on board a red Toyota Wigo in the vicinity of the resort.
“Yes. It was an inter-agency operation led by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) and police,” Esperon was quoted as saying.
A number of other Islamic groups in the southern Philippines, including Abu Sayyaf, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, but the military says there has been no sign of a direct collaboration between Filipino gunmen and militants in Syria and Iraq.
The AKP group had in 2015 pledged allegiance to IS despite having no direct links to the international militant group, security officials said. It has also forged ties with Indonesian terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah.
The AKP is believed to be behind numerous terrorist attacks in southern Mindanao, and threats against the November 2015 APEC Summit in Manila.
Rappler’s executive editor Maria Ressa said Tokboy was trained by key JI leaders, including Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, better known as Marwan, the high profile target of the Mamasapano tragedy that derailed the peace talks.
“AKP under Tokboy has a direct link to Indonesian groups, especially MIT, Mujihidin Indonesia Timur, led by an Indonesian who trained in the Philippines, Santoso,” Ressa said.
Authorities said Tokboy, who is believed to be a Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander, had evaded arrest in the past despite launching a manhunt for him.
In 2009, Tokboy was arrested for murder, arson, and robbery charges but managed to escape from a provincial jail the following year.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press