Notorious Abu Sayyaf member among 6 bandits killed in Bohol firefight

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — One of the leaders of the Abu Sayyaf who was involved in the kidnapping of foreigners was killed in the Bohol firefight, the military confirmed Wednesday.

The death of Muammar Askali, also known as "Abu Rami" is a "major blow" to the bandits and their plans to sow terror, said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief General Eduardo Año.

Rami was among the six Abu Sayyaf killed by joint military and police forces in a firefight that began early Tuesday in Barangay Napo, Inabanga, Bohol. Three military troops and one policeman were killed in the clash. Año added troops recovered another body at the site of the encounter.

"Malaking setback sa Abu Sayyaf 'yan. Probably later on it would actually discourage the Abu Sayyaf from conducting future kidnapping attempt(s) in the Visayas," Año said in a press briefing.

Related: 10 killed in firefight in Bohol vs. lawless elements

Año says Rami has led kidnappings of foreigners and Filipinos in Samal Island on September 2015 and in Sabah on November 2016.

"Para siyang si Abu Sabbaya kung matatandaan ninyo, mahilig magpa-interview, mahilig lumabas sa YouTube, at pinapakita niya na isa siyang capable subleader," the AFP chief added.

[Translation: He is like Abu Sabbaya if you remember, he likes to be interviewed, and he often goes on YouTube, and he showed that he's a capable subleader.]

Año said residents reported 11 armed men aboard three pumpboats disembarked at the Inabanga river on April 10. The river is one of the area's tourist sites.

He added that Rami and his men were first seen in Indanan, Sulu, on April 6 and 7. Sulu is 800 kilometers away from Bohol.

Police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa earlier said the bandits' goal was to execute kidnappings.

This was reiterated by Año, who said the Abu Sayyaf was targeting the kidnap of local and foreign tourists in the area especially during the lull of Holy Week.

"If you would look at the past kidnappings, they happened [in] Easter Sunday, near the Holy Week," he added.

The town of Inabanga is 58 kms north of Tagbilaran, a popular tourist destination that is the jumpoff point to the famed resort island of Panglao. Inabanga is three hours by boat and land from Cebu City.

Año added the terror threat is over. Government forces are pursuing five other bandits in the group with information from Abu Sayyaf members who have surrendered.

Rami was among Abu Sayyaf that kidnapped two Canadians, one Norwegian, and a Filipina on Samal Island off Davao City in September 2015. The two Canadians were beheaded, while the Norwegian and the Filipina were freed.

Gaining headway in war on terror

The AFP chief said they have killed 116 insurgents including 49 Abu Sayyaf killed in combat.

The military began its operations against terror groups in January 2017 on orders of President Rodrigo Duterte, and have given themselves until June 2017 to finish the mission.

Año said that on Tuesday, 11 members of Abu Sayyaf including two leaders surrendered in the town of Sanga-sanga in the southernmost island province of Tawi-tawi.

"We expect to see more surrendering in the coming days," he added.

As part of the AFP's modernization program to boost national security, Año said that they will take delivery of 12 F-50 fighter jets in May, along with other defense vessels and artillery. The deal for the F-50s, a trainer fighter jet, was made during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.

The Philippines is in talks with neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia to secure the borders and ports in the country's south where terror groups are believed to be hiding and operating, he added.

ASG leader Abu Rami killed in Bohol clash

CNN Philippines senior correspondent David Santos contributed to this report.