A planned Bohol-based operations of the Abu Sayyaf (ASG) was foiled after a 14-hour gun battle that killed four of their comrades, including their second ranking leader who was also their spokesman, three civilians, three Army soldiers and a member of the Philippine National Police in barangay Napo, Inabanga town last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, six Abu Sayyaf (ASG) terrorists and their alleged civilian point man made an astonishing escape from an elite force of military and police forces.
Bohol Police Provincial Director, Senior Superintendent Felipe Natividad told the Chronicle, military authorities identified the ASG bodies as those of Muammar Askali, whose nom de guerre is Abu Rami and groomed to replace the aging Radullan Sahiron, head of the Abu Sayyaf, Abu Sufyan and an unidentified terrorist.
Askali is the son of a policeman and a teacher in Jolo and was responsible for the beheading of two Canadians and a German tourist under the Marakat Ansar Battalion while collecting millions of pesos of ransom money from kidnapped victims.
The decomposed body of Edimar Isnain aka Guro Edie was dug out from a shallow grave in Barangay Lonoy Cainsican by pursuing military units where he was buried by Joselito Melloria, a local recruit of the ASG with the help of the remaining terrorists.
The other slain terrorists were identified as Edimar Isnain alias Guro Edie, a noted bomb trainor for Malaysian and Indonesian terror groups, new Abu recruits and one of the leaders of the dreaded Maute Group and a certain Abu Sufyan.
The three ASG terrorists who were killed did not include Melloria, an Islam convert and alleged point man of the 10-man extremist group that fought a deadly battle against a combined military and police forces.
Isnain was believed wounded during the attack and was carried by his escaping comrades but died while making their run from pursuing soldiers.
Two civilians, residents of Barangay Napo were reportedly caught in the crossfire – Constancio Pitaleo, the uncle of Melloria and his disabled wife Crisanta who were occupying the house of Melloria while he was away.
Another civilian, Beatriz Labandero, an 80 year old resident of Barangay Liloan Norte, a barangay close to Barangay Napo allegedly succumbed to a heart attack due to the ear splitting and earth shattering bombs during an air strike by propeller driven fighter planes on Tuesday, according to her grandson Jimmylito Logronio.
Interviewed by the Chronicle, Logronio narrated their harrowing experience as one of the families who was forced evacuated for their own safety by barangay and town officials and took shelter in the town’s gymnasium.
Killed on the government side were three SAF, namely 2nd Lt. Estilito Aaldua,. Jr., Cpl. Meljune C. Cajaban and Sergeant John Dexter Duero while Corporal Cris Jude B. Porlas was wounded.
Police Officer 2 Anthony Nazareno, 30 years old, the lone policeman killed was hit in the head and shoulder by sniper bullets hitting their heads. The Cebu born cop who grew up in Calape town recently graduated as member of the SWAT.
A Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) team composed of Philippine Navy Seals and Philippine Army Rangers made a dawn assault on the bandit’s safe house on Wednesday, April 12, 2017 after a series of aerial bombings by Philippine Air Force attack helicopters before midnight.
Melloria, a native of Barangay Napo is considered a key figure in the arrival of the Abu Sayyaf in Inabanga for allegedly extending assistance in the establishment of a terrorist base in Bohol and the use of his residence as a safe house.
A Philippine Daily Inquirer report on April 15, 2017 described Melloria as an emerging leader using the nom de guerre Abu Alih while Isnain was known as a bomb making trainer of ASG recruits linked to the Maute group in Lanao del Sur.
Melloria reportedly married a young Muslim woman whose family is allegedly involved in kidnappings.
Reliable independent sources told the Chronicle that Melloria sent a text message to his cousin in the neighboring town of Danao on Wednesday, April 5, 2017 that he is alive.
Another text message forwarded to the Chronicle said “May (7) pito pa na bandits sa area . . latest info @ brgy lonoy cainsican, inabanga. according frm source inilibing daw nila ang isang patay kaninang 1PM . . nagbigay 1,000 ang mga suspects. nagpabili ng mga pagkain at stinilas. . at nag pahanap bangka para makauwi na sa zamboanga ang kanilang mga barel day ay m16 riples, carbine, m203 @ garand”.
(They buried an unidentified person at 1PM. The suspects gave PhP1,000.00 for food and slippers and requested for a pump boat to bring them to Zamboanga. They were armed with M16 rifles, carbine, M203 and garand”.)
The text was confirmed by a news report from Sun Star Cebu dated April 13, 2017 “Body “buried” by Abu Sayyaf found in Inabanga, Bohol” and was corroborated by Police Senior Officer 1 Edwin Melicor of the Inabanga Police Station.
According to the news article, ASG contact Melloria was last seen in Brgy. Lonoy Cainsican on Wednesday, April 12 at 9PM seeking assistance for food and a place to hide.
Melloria, together with remnants of the ASG were lugging a dead person whom they buried near the house of a friend. the eyewitness whose name was withheld fled with his family and reported the incident to the police.
The safety of the remaining ASG terrorists now lies in the hands of Melloria who is intimately familiar with the area and has contacts with his childhood friends.
The six ASG terrorists are in a desperate dash towards the heavily forested areas surrounding the barangays of Inabanga, Danao, Buenavista and Clarin which have numerous caves with the military and the police hot on their trails.
Unconfirmed sightings were received by police stations as far as Loboc, Sevilla, Sierra Bullones and Loon.
Intelligence reports revealed that the ASG left Sulu from Tongkil town in Mamanok Island and was reportedly monitored by Philippine and United States intelligence that led to the issuance of a travel advisory by the US embassy citing “unsubstantiated yet credible information” on possible terrorist attacks in Bohol and Cebu two days before the extremist group arrived in Inabanga.
The ten-man ASG bandits entered the 25-kilometer Inabanga River on board three brightly painted high powered pump boats with Moorish designs on Monday late afternoon and proceeded to Barangay Napo which is 13 kilometers inland.
According to Inabanga Mayor Josephine “Roygie” Jumamoy, Barangay Napo is considered a strategic location because of the nearby tributaries that lead towards the open sea to Cebu, 38 kilometers from Inabanga.
A kid who was playing along the river bank spotted the ASG as they unloaded their cargo and openly dried their firearms and bullets under the sun while trying to conceal their pump boats in the river’s vegetation and undergrowth.
When the report of the suspects and their cargo reached the 47th Infantry Battallion stationed in Tubigon and the PNP Intelligence Branch from the Inabanga Police Station, surveillance was immediately conducted and a combined PA Special Action Force (SAF) and PNP Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) was called in.
According to accounts from soldiers and DYRD reporters Willie Maestrado and Jun Gutierrez, fierce fighting erupted when the terrorists traded gunfire with the army and policemen and even fired at helicopter gunships and propeller driven fighter planes of the PAF who dropped an estimated ten bombs on the ASG but failed to dislodge them from their improvised foxholes.
The reported tunnels which the ASG reportedly bored under the safe house owned by Mellora were actually deep ground fissures created by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that devastated Inabanga and the province of Bohol on October 15, 2013.
According to the military, these fissures with an average height of six feet provided the ASG with a natural “running foxhole” that provided the terrorists with a natural shield from the military’s firepower.
Several hastily dug man-made foxholes surrounded the hut where the terrorists made their stand against the overwhelming air and land assets of government forces.
Clearing operations uncovered a large number of bomb materials that included three detonating cords, galva tester, an ICOM radio and flashlight, two remote control radios, 49 blasting caps, blasting cap with cord, surgical forceps, plastic container, switchboard, electric soldering iron, 27 pcs. glue sticks, 8 improvised explosive assembly devices, electric cutter, scissor, SCR 4 12 volt relays, screwdriver, 8 slide switches, 86 red lights, 46 resistors, 3 cellphone batteries, 2 pressure clips and 10 christmas light bulbs.
Also seized were one M4 rifle, two M16 A1 rifles, caliber .45 Normico pistol, M203 ammunitions and 81mm cartridges but the heavier armaments were believed to be carted by the escaping ASG.
Other than the three pump boats that were recovered, the ASG also brought with them five Korans, the central religious text of Islam.
However, the escape of the ASG from a tight and contained military cordon is still under investigation as the public was assured by no less than Governor Edgar Chatto that “the situation was under control”.
Unfazed by the insecure situation, Boholanos flocked to churches, joined processions and a heavy influx of visitors was recorded three days after a fierce gunbattle buoyed by Chatto’s word that “Bohol is the safest part in the world”.
Bohol will be hosting the ASEAN summit meetings in Panglao on April 20-21, 2017 at the Hennan Resort in Panglao. (Chito M. Visarra)