ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Three Malaysian terror suspects being hunted by Malaysian authorities were regularly seen in Basilan and could be teaching the Abu Sayyaf new bomb-making techniques, according to the military.
Navy Captain Roy Vincent Trinidad, chief of staff of the Naval Forces in Western Mindanao, said this information came to the fore following Thursday's operation by militia-backed Army Special Forces in Muhammad Ajul town, during which two Abu Sayyaf members were killed.
"Villagers were alarmed over the reported presence of the Malaysians and the display of the black Shahada flag, so they decided to lead an operation (against the Abu Sayyaf coddlers), which we supported," Trinidad said.
He said residents of Barangay Tuburan were referring to Malaysian nationals Mohammad Najib alias Anas; Mohammad Joraimi Awang Raimee alias Jandal; and Dr Mahmud Ahmad alias Handzalahdoc.
"They were regularly spotted by Tuburan villagers in the area," he added.
Trinidad said during the operation, two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) - which were unlike previous explosives seized from the Abu Sayyaf - had also been recovered and were safely defused.
Capt Ben June Cerbo, acting spokesperson of Western Mindanao Command, said there were two clashes that took place in Tuburan on Thursday.
"There were two Abu Sayyafs killed, troops also recovered two IEDs that were safely disrupted. They also seized the black Shahada flags," Cerbo said.
The Malaysians were believed to have escaped alongside the bandits.
Trinidad said the seized bombs used "solar panels" to power the detonator. The bombs, he said, were made of paint cans where the explosive components and other materials were contained and fitted with mobile phones powered by small solar panels as detonator.
"This is the first time we discovered this type of IED," he said.
Malaysian authorities said they have been hunting down Mahmud and the other militants, who belong to the Darul Islam Sabah, a Malaysian group closely linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The information on the other militants was scarce but Mahmud, 36, was said to be a former lecturer of Islamic Studies at Universiti Malaya.