KUCHING: A Malaysian shopkeeper-turned-bomb-maker associated with Islamic State (IS) is suspected to be among 13 Abu Sayyaf gunmen killed in a clash with the Philippines military in Basilan island.
Initial ground reports allege that the Malaysian could be Mohd Najib Hussein, 38, alias Abu Anas who was a key figure in the IS' Black Flag cell of Universiti Malaya professor Dr Mahmud Ahmad alias Abu Handzalah who has been hiding out with the Abu Sayyaf in southern Philippines.
Although no official confirmation was available from the initial intelligence report as the bodies of those killed was not recovered, Filipino sources said a Malaysian terrorist involved in running a "IED SME" (Improvised Explosive Device, Small Medium Enterprise) factory was in the area of the Abu Sayyaf lair during Tuesday's military attack.
Najib who used to own a photostat and stationary shop in Universiti Malaya, Petaling Jaya, fled Malaysia with Dr Mahmud, 36, Selayang council worker Muhammad Joraimee, 39, and several other IS terror suspects July last year.
Together with Sabahans Mohd Amin Baco, 31, and Jeknal Adil, 30, they were identified as bomb makers using the Abu Sayyaf hideouts in Basilan and Jolo islands as base for IS operatives in Southeast Asia.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that 13 Abu Sayyaf bandits and two soldiers were killed in a firefight in Al Barka, Basilan, at 5 pm on Tuesday while 10 other soldiers were injured.
Major Filemon Tan, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said Tuesday's encounter was the third day of fighting between the bandit group and government troops composed of the Scout Rangers and the Philippine Marines.
"It has been ongoing for three day. It was on Tuesday that the major skirmishes happened," the military official said of the encounter that began at 5am Tuesday.
Tan said combined elements of the 104th Army Brigade, the 3rd Scout Ranger Battalion, 4th Special Forces Battalion, Marine Special Operations Group and the 12th Light Armor Cavalry, were conducting "focused operation" against a suspected Abu Sayyaf encampment in Barangay Macalang when they clashed with a still undetermined number of bandits.
"It was an encounter with the Abu Sayyaf Group. It is a focused military operation. Prior to this, there was an intelligence operation that led to the identification of the ASG lair," Tan said. The military did not recover any bodies of the Abu Sayyaf men while the 10 injured soldiers have been undergoing medical treatment.