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4 Malaysians among gunmen in clash with gov’t forces in Sulu

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—At least four Malaysians were among the gunmen, including former members of the Moro National Liberation Front,  that figured in a clash with government forces  in Talipao, Sulu, last Sunday, a  junior Marine officer who survived the battle said.

In fact, one of the Malaysians was killed in the two-hour firefight, in which 15 people,  including two soldiers, were killed, according to Second Lieutenant Arnel Arieta, executive officer of the 30th Marine Company.

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“There were four Malaysians,” he said, citing a local a source.

He said the information about the death of one of the foreigners was corroborated by a village official.

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Rommel Banlaoi, chair of the Philippines Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, said the information about the presence of Malaysians in Talipao was correct.

“The presence of Malaysian jihadists in Sulu is true. Around 30 Malaysian jihadists are in Talipao, some are in Barangay Bato Kabang,” Banlaoi told the Inquirer by phone.

Brigadier General Romeo Tanalgo, chief of  Task Force Sulu Island, said they  received reports that there were Malaysians during the attack staged by the combined force of former MNLF guerrillas and Abu Sayyaf terrorists under Hatib Zacaria in Barangay Kabungcol but they were still verifying the information.

“We have not actually seen any of them,” he said.

Colonel Jose Johriel Cenabre, deputy commander for Marine Operations of the Naval Forces in Western Mindanao, also made a similar statement. But he admitted that one of the 13 attackers killed in the ensuing firefight “did not appear to be a Filipino.”

Sonny Abing, spokesperson of the Sulu provincial government, said five of the 13 slain gunmen had already been identified by relatives and were buried in Barangay Busbus in Jolo on Monday.

“We are still coordinating with our ACC (Area Coordinating Center) officials if there was indeed a Malaysian among the dead,” Abing said.

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Cenabre said the Task Force Sulu had identified six of the slain men as Salip Jainal, Crispin Sanadji, Innu Sadjari, Alsid Bassir, Akman Badda and Bassar Abbur.

“Seven others remained unidentified, including the foreign-looking guy,” he said.

Singapore-based security expert Rohan Gunarathna had said the presence of foreigners in Sulu was an indication of a merger between the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiyah.

Cenabre  said also that the “the attack last Sunday could be an indication” of a merger.

Tanalgo agreed but added that the extent of the merger was still undetermined.

Rear Adm.  Alexander Pama, Philippine commander, said as far as he was concerned, there was only a tactical alliance between the Abu Sayyaf and the JI. He said the merger theory was not totally acceptable.

“I may not totally accept that, the dynamics of both JI and ASG. There seems to be some aspects of the doctrines of both groups that may not be necessarily congruent. They have some tactical alliances, but fusion or merging of the group,  it leaves a lot of debate,” Pama said.

Banlaoi said he did not agree with the merger report, “but I subscribe to the view that ASG and JI personalities in Mindanao are working closely together.”

Ustadz Murshi Ibrahim, MNLF secretary general, said the group that stormed the Marine base in Talipao was known as Awliyah, whose followers supposedly practice Sufism and mysticism.

“The MNLF leadership considered it (Awliyah) an ill-fated adventurism to drag the peace agreement between the MNLF and GPH as witnessed by OIC into a state of uncertainty,” Ibrahim said.

The Talipao attack was the first  staged by the group.

A day after the Talipao attack, five people were also killed in Sumisip, Basilan, when members of the two groups joined together, according to Brig. Gen. Gerardo Layug, deputy chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

But Chief Supt. Felicisimo Khu, head of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations in Western Mindanao, said the Basilan killings were fueled by a long-standing family feud and had nothing to do with terrorism.

Ibrahim said the formation of the Awliyah was an indication of some people’s growing impatience with the government’s failure to fully implement the 1996 peace accord with the MNLF.

“Observers said it (the Awliyah attack) was an obvious protest against the government’s flagrant failure to comply with its international commitment to implement the peace agreement in letter and in spirit,” he said.

He said the government’s failure to fully implement the peace deal was the main reason “there is no final resolution yet to the problem in Mindanao.”

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TAGS: Abu Sayyaf, Features, Foreign affairs, Military, MNLF, Moro Insurgency, Terrorism
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