Philippine forces kill ′Islamic State′-linked leader on resort island | News | DW | 22.04.2017
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Philippine forces kill 'Islamic State'-linked leader on resort island

Authorities have identified the slain militant as the leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group, known for its ties to the "Islamic State." Since the 1990s, the Philippines have fought against the group's insurgency.

Philippine forces killed a suspected Islamist militant on Saturday during clashes with an "Islamic State"-linked group.

Joselito Melloria was shot dead in a gun battle with government forces made up of army troops and police in Bohol province. The troops were hunting Melloria and his band of fighters after a clash earlier this month.

The Philippines military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said "one lawless element" was killed in the firefight but he could not give the man's identity.

However, Bohol Governor Edgar Chatto identified the man as Abu Sayyaf leader Joselito Melloria, who was among militants involved in a kidnapping plot on the province's main island.

The troops are hunting Abu Sayyaf militants directly involved in the kidnapping and killing of Canadian and German hostages earlier this year.

From convert to jihadist leader

Melloria, a convert to Islam and a Bohol resident, led Abu Sayyaf militants from their jungle encampments in the south to his Bohol village in Inabanga. Officials believe the militants were planning bombing attacks and kidnappings for ransom.

Philippine forces clashed with the militants on April 11 in a fight that left four militants, three soldiers, a policeman and two villagers dead.

Melloria, who converted to Islam in 2005 when he married a Muslim woman, escaped that battle, fleeing with at least seven other militants. In response, authorities launched a massive manhunt, with President Rodrigo Duterte offering a 1 million peso ($20,000) reward for information leading to the capture of the fleeing militants.

Terrorist organization

Government forces encountered Melloria - whose nom de guerre is Abu Alih - Saturday with six fellow militants. It was not immediately clear how many, if any, of the militants traveling with Melloria were killed or injured during Saturday's clash.

Melloria took a yearlong trip to Saudi Arabia, returning to the Philippines in 2015 and joining Maute, a small band of militants based in the south who declared allegiance to the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group. Subsequently, he assimilated with another IS-linked group, Ansar Khilafa Philippines, and Abu Sayyaf, according to the military.

Philippine security officials said that had the Bohol plots been successful, Melloria would have become the leader of Ansar Khilafa Philippines, whose leader was killed in January during a clash with police.

The fighting and foiled terror plots in Bohol have unnerved local residents and prompted Western countries to warn their citizens about traveling to the Philippines' central region, a popular tourist destination.

The United States and the Philippines have labeled the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization because of bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings.

bik/ls (AP, Reuters)

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