IS claims Basilan ambush
CAIRO, Egypt—The jihadist Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for clashes between the extremist Abu Sayyaf linked to the group and Philippine troops this week that led to the death of 18 soldiers, a claim that the Philippine government has dismissed as “purely propaganda.”
“With the grace of God we were able to detonate seven trucks carrying soldiers,” an IS statement said.
The attack led to the death of three of the extremists, the statement added.
SITE Intelligence, a United States-based group that tracks online activity of jihadi organisations, reported the IS had claimed responsibility for killing nearly 100 Philippine government and had blown up seven trucks transporting them. SITE cited an April 13 statement carried by the IS’ Amaq news agency.
This was denied by the Philippine military which on Thursday said there was no evidence directly linking Muslim rebels in the country’s south to the jihadist group.
Armed Forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the IS claim was propaganda and its statement had “many gaps and inconsistencies.”
“We are still looking for proof to make a link,” he said. “There is no direct link as far as we know and based on our assessment.”
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and his visiting US counterpart, Ashton Carter, yesterday also dismissed the IS jihadist group claim that extremists affiliated with it had killed scores of government soldiers.
No IS in the PH
“The [Abu Sayyaf] group in Basilan is trying to organize and be affiliated with IS but so far the information says there is no formal IS organization here in the Philippines,” Gazmin said at a joint press conference with Carter yesterday.
Carter said different terrorist groups trying to “affiliate with or rebrand association with the IS” has become a “worldwide phenomenon.”
“It is a worldwide phenomenon that groups associate themselves with IS. That may be what we are seeing by groups here in the Philippines. If so, that would be consistent with the pattern that we see around the world and this is why it is important to defeat IS,” Carter said.
The Islamic State, by which the group now calls itself after it proclaimed a worldwide caliphate in 2014, is also known in other translations as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and also as Daesh, an acronym derived from its Arabic name, ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah.
The military has reported 46 people killed in battles this week between its troops and about 120 Abu Sayyaf in a 10-hour assault in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan. Fighting raged for a sixth day on Thursday.
The army said the military had attacked a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf on the island.
Security experts and some media have criticized the handling of Saturday’s initial encounter with the Abu Sayyaf, saying the military has repeatedly underestimated the extremists.
The military has pulled out the Army unit that engaged the Abu Sayyaf, replacing them with fresh troops, backed by artillery, tanks and aircraft, in pursuit operations.
“We lost only 18 soldiers but killed 28 Abu Sayyaf members since fighting began on Saturday. Our troops continued to pursue them and we will not stop until we achieve a decisive victory,” Padilla said. More than 50 other soldiers were wounded.
The Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent group known for extortion, kidnappings, beheadings and bombings, has posted videos on social media pledging allegiance to IS militants in Iraq and Syria.
The group has attracted foreign fighters from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa to the troubled south of the Philippines, home to a Muslim minority and several Muslim rebel groups.
But Padilla said there was still no evidence that the IS had ties with the Abu Sayyaf.
The presence in Basilan of Moroccan bomb expert Mohammed Khatab, who was killed in the fighting, may have prompted the IS to claim responsibility, sources said.
But even as the government is looking into the IS claim, the sources said Khattab does not have a “solid link” with the jihadist group.
A high-ranking military official said the reports that the dead Khattab was found to be wearing an explosive vest, indicating a suicide mission, and an IS shirt may have caught the attention of the IS in the Middle East and led to the claim.
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