Another Abu Sayyaf leader killed in fresh clashes in Philippine resort province Bohol

MANILA - Philippine troops on Saturday (April 22) killed a senior Islamic militant in the same resort province where an earlier clash left at least four Abu Sayyaf extremists, including a "rising star", dead.

Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, the military spokesman, said in a TV interview that government forces managed to track down two Abu Sayyaf fighters in Clarin town, Bohol province, at around 1pm.

Local officials reported that Joselito Melloria, 33, described as the Abu Sayyaf's pointman in Bohol, was killed in the fighting that ensued. But Brig-Gen Padilla said this had yet to be confirmed.

The latest violence comes as Asean is wrapping up a key meeting on nuclear energy in Bohol, amid assurances that the terror threat in Bohol and other parts of central Philippines has been contained.

Melloria was also purportedly being groomed to head another militant group, Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines (AKP), following the death in January of its erstwhile leader Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, an apprentice of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias "Marwan".

Both the Abu Sayyaf and AKP have ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Melloria converted to Islam in 2015, after marrying the daughter of a commander of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). He then began using the alias Abu Alih and later worked in Saudi Arabia.

Brig-Gen Padilla said Melloria and the men with him were part of the same group that was involved in an hours-long clash with government forces in another part of Bohol on April 11.

In that firefight, Abu Sayyaf spokesman Muamar Askali, also known as "Abu Rami" and described as a "rising star" in Islamic extremist circles, was killed, along with three of his followers.

Three soldiers, a policeman, and two civilians tagged by the military as Abu Sayyaf sympathisers were also killed.

Askali was leading a band that sailed northward for nearly 800km from an Abu Sayyaf base in Indanan town, in Sulu province, to Bohol to snatch tourists in Bohol.

Askali was said to be the chief planner of the Abu Sayyaf's Tanum sub-group, behind high-profile kidnappings off Malaysia's Sabah state and around the southern Philippine island group of Mindanao,

The Tanum sub-group was behind the kidnapping of two Canadians and a Norwegian at an upscale resort on Samal island in Davao province in September 2015, and a German off Sabah in Malaysia in November last year.

Intelligence reports said Melloria was with Askali in Samal.

rdancel@sph.com.sg