A SUB-LEADER of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group and one of his men were killed by security forces in Bongao, Tawi-tawi, where they are supposedly looking for potential kidnap victims, the military reported Friday.
Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Captain Jo-ann Petinglay named the fatalities as sub-leader Ninok Sappari and one of his men, Mahdi Abdurahman.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) Police Director Reuben Theodore Sindac said earlier that Abdurahman is also a sub-leader of the terrorist group.
Petinglay said military and police forces launched the operation against Sappari's group on Thursday, February 9, at the Almari Beach Resort in Barangay Pahut where the two are said to be staying while looking and eyeing possible kidnap victims from the said resort.
Petinglay said a concerned civilian reported to authorities the suspicious movement of the two suspects.
Troops swooped down at the resort around 2 p.m., leading to a firefight.
The clash resulted in the death of Abdurahman, but Sappari, who was injured, managed to escape.
Pursuit operations led to the killing of Sappari around 9:30 p.m. Thursday in the nearby Barangay Nalil, said Petinglay.
"Ninok Sappari was able to evade apprehending forces and ran (after the initial firefight) to the forested area after noticing the apprehending troops. According to bystanders, Sappari, while evading the troops, appeared to be wounded since blood stains were seen along his tracks," said Petinglay.
"Sappari is the leader of the notorious ASG Lucky 9 group of Sulu which perpetrated the assassinations of military personnel. The group was also engaged lately on kidnapping of local victims in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi," she said.
Sappari was charged with 32 counts of murder.
Yasser Anji, another companion of Sappari, was arrested and placed under the custody of the Armm police for further investigation.
The military is aiming to defeat the Abu Sayyf during the first six months of the year. The group, composed of around 300 to 400 men, is holding 27 foreign and Filipino kidnap victims in Sulu.
The hostages included the following: a Dutch, a German, a Korean, seven Indonesians, five Malaysians, six Vietnamese, and six Filipinos.
"All available forces are being deployed to pursue and neutralize the Abu Sayyaf Group. These recent operations have caused setbacks, casualties and losses on the terrorist group," Wesmincom commander Major General Carlito Galvez said.
"We will not stop until we get them all or until they decide to return to the folds of the law and surrender," added Galvez. (VR/Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo/Bong Garcia/SunStar Philippines)