Security forces have killed the leader of a terrorist group in the Philippines with ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Chief Superintendent Cedrick Train said in a report that Mohammad Jaafar Maguid, alias "Tokboy", was killed at around 1am yesterday in a police operation in Kiamba town, Sarangani province.
Maguid was the head of Ansar al-Khilafah Philippines, an extremist group among a handful in the war-torn southern island group of Mindanao that have pledged allegiance to ISIS.
Police caught up with him as he was about to leave a beach resort. He was killed on the spot, while three of his men were arrested, according to Chief Supt Train. Two AR-15 assault rifles, a grenade, magazine clips, a cellphone, a passport and a passbook were taken from the men.
"We consider this a big blow to Ansar al-Khilafah," Colonel Edgard Arevalo, a military spokesman, told reporters.
He said that Maguid "was known in his circles as a master bomb-maker. He has already trained other bomb-makers".
Maguid was said to have learnt how to make improvised explosive devices from Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Hir, alias Marwan, who was killed by Philippine police commandos in January 2015.
Under Maguid, Ansar al-Khilafah managed to hook up with militant groups in Indonesia, notably Mujihidin Indonesia Timur, led by Santoso, once Indonesia's most-wanted terrorist, who was killed by the country's police in July last year.
Philippine police had offered a 300,000 peso (S$8,600) reward for Maguid's capture. He was believed to have also been a commander of the 105th Base Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a group fighting for greater autonomy in Mindanao which is now holding peace talks with the government.
In 2009, Maguid was arrested and jailed for murder, arson and robbery. He escaped the following year.
Ansar al-Khilafah was reportedly behind plots to disrupt the 2015 Apec summit in Manila. It had recently been providing support to the Maute group, held responsible for the bombing of a popular night market in President Rodrigo Duterte's home city of Davao last September that left 14 dead, as well as a failed attempt to bomb the United States Embassy in Manila.
A graphic video posted on Facebook in April last year showed men who identified themselves as members of Ansar al-Khilafah beheading a man they claimed was a police spy.
A three-minute video posted in December 2015 also showed a group of men from Ansar al-Khilafah, clad mostly in black, coaxing Muslims to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS.
Meanwhile, police will be on full alert next Monday following reports that the Maute group was planning attacks during the Black Nazarene procession, a yearly religious ritual that draws more than a million devotees to the heart of the capital Manila.
"The threat is there, especially with a big event like this in Manila," Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno said at a news briefing.
The Straits Times had earlier reported that a terrorist cell formed by the Maute group is already operating and planning a big attack in Manila.