Basilan clash: What we know so far

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) – As the rest of the country commemorated the Day of Valor (Araw ng Kagitingan) on April 9 in the World War II battlefields of Bataan, a bloody skirmish erupted in the small Tipo-Tipo town in Basilan.

At least 18 soldiers and five Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) fighters were killed in a 10-hour gun battle that day. It was the biggest single-day combat casualty suffered by government forces in the area since 2011.

Following more clashes, the AFP said the number of militants killed had risen to 31 by April 14, but authorities are still validating this figure.

Some 56 soldiers and an undetermined number of ASG fighters were also wounded.

Maj. Filemon Tan, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Mindanao Command (AFP WesMinCom) said the rebels attacked the soldiers at around 8 a.m. in Sitio Bayoko, Bgy. Baguindan in Tipo-Tipo on April 9.

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That triggered an intense firefight between 120 members of the ASG and soldiers from the 44th Infantry Battalion, the 4th Special Forces Battalion and 14 Cavalry troops.

 

Moroccan terrorist killed

Among those killed on the side of the rebels  were suspected foreign terrorist, Moroccan national Mohammad Khattab, and Ubaida Hapilon, a son of Isnilon Hapilon – the Abu Sayyaf senior leader who recently pledged allegiance to the ISIS, one of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organizations.

Khattab’s death was a big blow to the militants in Basilan, the WesMinCom said.

Authorities described him as an expert bomb-maker and jihadist preacher who was trying to link local armed groups and kidnap-for-ransom gangs to international terrorist organizations.

Also read: Who are the Abu Sayyaf?

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Four of those killed among the government troops were Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) integrees, government peace panel head Miriam Coronel Ferrer said.

They are Staff Sgt. Makin Jarani from Basilan; Sgt. Akmad Usman from Zamboanga Sibugay; Cpl. Reezvi Archcelo Gandawali from Sulu; and Cpl. Ibrahim Rajab Palaw.

Watch: Achieving peace in Mindanao: VP candidates' alternatives

AFP denies ISIS hand

On April 14, Reuters said the ISIS has claimed responsibility for the bloody encounter.

"With the grace of god we were able to detonate seven trucks carrying soldiers," Reuters quoted a statement from the ISIS. 

CNN Philippines could not independently verify the authenticity of this statement.

But AFP Spokesperson BGen. Restituto Padilla told CNN Philippines that contrary to what the ISIS reportedly claimed, there were no trucks hit by bombs during the fighting.

Also read: AFP raises doubts on ISIS claim in Basilan clash

He downplayed the statement as mere propaganda, but said the AFP is looking into whether the Abu Sayyaf has aligned with ISIS.

The AFP maintained there is so far no clear, direct link between local terror groups and ISIS.

Ongoing pursuit

A massive military operation was launched in Basilan a day after the bloody debacle to pursue Hapilon and Furuji Indama. The military says both men led the attack against the soldiers. Indama was reported to have been wounded critically.

AFP v ASG.png The Wesmincom said more than 2,000 fully armed soldiers had been deployed in Basilan to hunt down Abu Sayyaf members operating in Tipo-Tipo.

More than 2,000 soldiers were deployed to the province to hunt down about 70 to 80 more ASG members, the AFP said.

The rebels were able to grab weapons, including M4 rifles, from the wounded and slain soldiers. Authorities said they are yet to make a final count of the weapons lost to the ASG.

Military operations are ongoing, and the AFP said it is ready for any move by the terror group to divert the attention of security forces in a bid to ease the pressure on the ASG fighters in the battlefield. 

Bravery honored

Pnoy_CNNPH.png President Benigno Aquino III pays his respects to one of the soldiers killed in the clash, Cpl. Rodelio Bangcairin.

On April 13, President Benigno Aquino III, flew to Zamboanga City where he paid his respects to one of the soldiers killed in the clash, Cpl. Rodelio Bangcairin.

He promised financial aid to families of the fallen soldiers, including P250,000 from the Office of the President, for each of the soldier killed.

Aquino also visited the wounded soldiers at the Camp Basilio Navarro General Hospital in Zamboanga City.

Watch: President Aquino mum on Basilan clashes

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri earlier went to Zamboanga City to look into the encounter, but refused to divulge details of his inquiry to journalists.

Iriberri also awarded medals to the wounded soldiers confined in two military hospitals and two local hospitals in Zamboanga City.

Also read: Fallen troopers honored as AFP pursues ASG in Basilan