Thursday, April 14, 2016

Daesh-affiliates claim role in Philippine army deaths

Jund al-Khilafah claims 3 of its 'martyrs' killed in bloody encounter in south, many other members wounded

FeaturesZAMBOANGA, the Philippines

Local and foreign militants identifying themselves as members of a one-time al-Qaeda splinter group have claimed involvement in the deaths of 20 army soldiers in a bloody battle in a conflict-wracked island province in the Philippines' south over the weekend.

The group -- Jund al-Khilafah -- was previously a faction of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the al-Qaeda affiliate in North and West Africa. It is reported to have broken allegiance from al-Qaeda and pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Daesh.

On Thursday, the Manila Times quoted the group as saying that three of its "martyrs" were killed in the bloody encounter.

The Philippines army has been referring to all the dead militants as Abu Sayyaf members, although several were pictured wearing Daesh insignia.

The Daesh-affiliated al-Furat Media Foundation website has reported Jund al-Khilafah as saying that many of those wounded were also members, including a commander who sustained a slight wound to his forehead.

They also claimed to have recovered one dozen M4 rifles and a 90mm recoilless rifle from the dead soldiers.

Saturday's encounter took place in the village of Baguindan, Tipo-Tipo town, in Basilan province. A nine-hour firefight between the army and the militants lasted until about 4 p.m. (0800GMT) with the militants eventually withdrawing in 10 different directions.

The soldiers -- belonging to the Philippine army's 44th Infantry Battalion, the 4th Special Forces Battalion and 14 Cavalry units -- were attacked while conducting military operations against the Abu Sayyaf.

The army is reported to have recovered the body of the Jund al-Khilafah-claimed members.

On Thursday, the army denied a report from the Daesh-affiliated Amaq Agency that claimed around 100 Filipino soldiers had died in the incident.

The military has said around 20 soldiers were killed along with 28 Abu Sayyaf members.

"There is no truth to the report [by Amaq). It is a mere propaganda by sympathizers of this terrorist group," Major Filemon Tan told Anadolu Agency in an interview Thursday.

He declined to comment further on the issue, but downplayed another Daesh claim that it had detonated explosives on seven trucks carrying soldiers in Basilan.

In videos uploaded to the internet, Jund al-Khilafah has claimed that the Abu Sayyaf has been divided into two factions – Harakatul Islamiyah controlling the Abu Sayyaf strongholds in Basilan, and Jundul Tawhid the group's areas in Sulu.

The militants in Basilan are reported to be headed by Isnilon Hapilon, while the Sulu militants are being led by Malaysian national Mohd Amin Baco.

Last month, Baco appeared in an al-Furat video released online pledging allegiance to the Daesh's self-proclaimed caliphate along with dozens of young Filipino militants.

The Philippines government is involved in a peace process with the region's one-time largest rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation front (MILF), however a final agreement has been shelved during the country's presidential election.

Both the government and the MILF have warned that while the agreement is on hold "terrorist" groups may try and take advantage of local frustrations.

By Roy Ramos and Hader Glang

Anadolu Agency

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