MILF joins hunt for Abu Sayyaf in Sulu

COTABATO, Philippines – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has mobilized its forces in Sulu to help soldiers run after the Abu Sayyaf Group and hold them accountable for the death of 7 Marines over the weekend.

“We have undertaking on the ground right now. Our men are gathering vital information as to the exact location of the Abu Sayyaf,”  MILF chief negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal said in a phone interview.

Iqbal said this move is a normal task under the adhoc joint action group, a team created by the government and MILF to go after criminals and terrorist groups.

Von Al Haq, spokesman of the MILF, said they will reposition their men in some areas of Sulu to prevent a misencounter with government troops.

Early morning on Saturday, May 25, members of the 2nd Marine Brigade encountered members of Abu Sayyaf in the village of Tugay, Patikul town. The hour-long firefight that started at 6:30 am left 7 Marines, including a lieutenant, and 4 Abu Sayyaf members dead. Nine Marines and 10 Abu Sayyaf members were wounded.

Iqbal said the Marines encountered a group led by Jul-Aswan Sawadjaan, which is a faction within the Abu Sayyaf that he said has gone out of control. “This group is also big and they are capable. They are not getting orders anymore from their leader Radulan Sahiron,” Iqbal said.

Students?

There are varying accounts of why the government troops were in the area. According to the MILF, the government troops were deployed to rescue the wife of a colleague seized by the Abu Sayyaf. A Philippine Daily Inquirer report, however, quoted former Marine Col Ariel Querubin as saying that the Marines were there on a test mission and that most of them are students.

Initial reports said the Marines conducted a rescue mission on May 18 to recover Casilda Viollarasa, 41, a medical technologist by profession, who was abducted by the Abu Sayyaf.

Villarasa was with her daughter on the way to the Integrated Provincial Health Office in the village of Asturias, Jolo, Sulu, when the bandits seized her. Villarasa’s daughter, Valeria, 9, managed to run away and escape.

The MILF said the Marines were lured into a trap, which explains the heavy toll on them.

The Abu Sayyaf is blamed for the country's worst terror attacks, including the firebombing of a ferry in Manila Bay and kidnappings of foreign tourists.

Latest military estimate placed the strength of the Abu Sayyaf at about 300, mostly based in the southern Mindanao provinces of Sulu and Basilan. - with reports from Jeoffrey Maitem/Rappler.com