COTABATO CITY-The military reiterated on Saturday that the eight men killed in Thursday's clash in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat, were members of a newly emerged terror group called Ansar Al-Khilafa Philippines and that one of the slain suspects was an Indonesian bomb expert.
Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Maguindanao-based 6th Infantry Division, issued the statement, even as a ranking official of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) decried the deaths of two of the suspects.
Pangilinan said Indonesian Ibrahim Alih, a member of the Mujahideen Indonesian Timur (MIT), was among the eight men killed.
The MIT, founded by Santoso, is a jihadist group listed by Washington as among terror organisations operating in Southeast Asia, which has ties with al-Qaida. MIT's Santoso was among those linked to the Bali bombings and attacks on policemen in Indonesia, using crude, homemade bombs.
Pangilinan said Alih, also known as Abdul Fatah and Abu Fattah, was first arrested in Zamboanga City for illegal possession of firearms in 2005 but was released in 2013 due to lack of merit of the case filed against him.
He said Alih had since been monitored with the group of Mohamad Jaafar Maguid, alias Commander Tokboy, after his release.
Lawyer Sahara Silongan, the solicitor general of the ARMM, has cried foul, however, saying that two of the eight slain men were her cousins.
Silongan also said she knew most of the suspects and that they were huffaz, or literally, young men who memorize the Quran.
"Yesterday, we were informed that they were killed by the Marines. The news branded them as supporters of Isis. They were described as bandits and extortionists. Hearing all these things hurt me more than the news of their death," Silongan said.
On Friday, two Muslim groups disowned the slain men.
Abu Misri Mama, spokesperson of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), said they had no association with the suspected terrorists and that their commander on the ground, Tokboy, had no participation in the fighting, contrary to what the military had claimed.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) made a similar statement and claimed that the operation "conducted by the Marines" had been properly coordinated with it.
Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator, told the Inquirer by phone the MILF did not know what group the armed men belonged to and who they were.
Malacañang, meanwhile, assured the public that extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) has not yet established a presence in the country despite a recent military encounter with a group of Muslim rebels carrying Isis flags.
Presidential Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said that Malacañang shared the views of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police that there was no proof of an Isis presence in the country.
He said the AFP felt there was no need to raise alert levels because it did not see any "credible and verified foreign terrorist presence established in our country."
He said the PNP reported that "validation of information gathered thus far has produced no basis to confirm such reports."