A KEY guide of the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf terror group was killed Saturday along with three others in two firefights with Philippine government forces in Bohol, a resort island.
Reports from the clashes say the leader has been identified as Joselito Melloria, one of the militants involved in a recent kidnapping plot on the island. The group reportedly stole into the popular island earlier this month to prepare for tourist arrivals during the Holy Week break.
CNN Philippines quoted Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla as saying Melloria was gunned down by government forces earlier in the afternoon when the troops clashed with militants following a tip-off from residents on their hideout.
“It is indeed Joselito Melloria and he was killed when our troops met their group in Sitio Lagsing, Barangay Bacani, Clarin, Bohol sometime 1 o’clock today,” he was quoted saying.
The firefight, according to Bohol Governor Edgar Chatto, started at around 12.45pm when ground forces, acting on the tip-offs, successfully cornered the militants.
“I think they were using a cave as a temporary shelter in the area,” he said, adding that it was also learned that the militants were getting weaker, with fewer firearms left to aid them in their fight with pursuing forces.
Meanwhile, a second gunfight broke out later in the night, resulting in the deaths of a futher three militants.
According to CNN Philippines, the clash occurred at around 9pm on Saturday. Three high-powered weapons – M16 and M16 rifles – were also uncovered.
The military are still hot in pursuit of three more members of the terror network said to be the last of leader Abu Rami’s group.
Abu Rami is also known as Muamar Askali, the militant who was killed in the first of the gunfights with Philippine forces on the island April 11. His group is said to be responsible for the kidnapping of German hostage Jurgen Kantner last year. Kantner was beheaded in February this year when his family couldn’t pay the PHP30 million (US$600,000) ransom demanded.
The first Bohol battle took the lives of three soldiers as well as six Abu Sayyaf members in Inabanga town. After the standoff, the military said it would resume operations to pursue the remaining militants who escaped the gunfight.
Security officials have also recovered the bodies of elderly couple Constancio and Crisenta Petalco from the first encounter site in Inabanga and believe the two were killed by militants.
A Rappler report quoted the military in Bohol as explaining that this is because the bandits likely stayed with the couple when they sailed there from Sulu. It is also believed that Melloria is their nephew.
The Abu Sayyaf group that operates out of the Philippines’ restive south has its roots in separatism and makes money from kidnap-for-ransom activities and piracy. The group has over the years kidnapped scores of tourists from nearby resort islands and beheaded them, and abducted crew members off vessels traversing the piracy-plagued waters bordering the Philippines and Malaysia.