For Abu Sayyaf, business as usual
While the military and police are busy supporting measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019, it’s business as usual for Abu Sayyaf lowlifes in Sulu. Flags are now flying at half-mast at military camps to honor 11 members of the Philippine Army’s 21st Infantry Battalion who were killed in an encounter with Abu Sayyaf bandits last Friday in Patikul, Sulu.
As in previous encounters, the bandits beheaded some of the fallen soldiers, according to the military. The Abu Sayyaf gunmen were reportedly led by one-armed bandit Radulan Sahiron, who has a $1-million bounty on his head, and Hatib Hadjan Sawadjaan. An improvised explosive device went off as the soldiers were conducting operations. A firefight ensued.
Sahiron has been reported killed several times in the past. This latest encounter should lead to intensified efforts to finish him off. The Armed Forces of the Philippines has dispatched air assets and artillery in pursuit of the bandits, who are believed to have lost five fighters during the encounter.
The AFP is currently preoccupied with the complicated task of enforcing together with the police various degrees of community quarantines to contain COVID-19. Threat groups, however, cannot care less about this. Unless COVID-19 reaches Abu Sayyaf lairs, the bandits should be expected to try to take advantage of the fact that the AFP has pressing matters to confront.
So far, there has been no COVID case reported in Sulu, so the Abu Sayyaf is likely to continue distracting the AFP from its current COVID-related duties. The Abu Sayyaf threat is unrelenting, and state forces cannot afford to let down their guard. The deaths of the 11 soldiers should strengthen the resolve of the state to eradicate the Abu Sayyaf.