MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine troops have killed a “high-value” but little-known Filipino militant who acted as a key link of the Islamic State group to local jihadists and helped set up a series of deadly suicide attacks in the south that have alarmed the region, military officials said Saturday.
Talha Jumsah, who used the nom de guerre Abu Talha, was killed Friday morning in a clash with troops in the jungles off Patikul town in Sulu province, which has been rocked by three deadly suicide bombings this year, including the first suicide attack known to have been staged by a Filipino militant.
“One by one, we will hunt you down,” Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr., the commander of military forces in Sulu, said in a warning to the militants. “I am reiterating my appeal to them to surrender and live a normal life instead of being hunted down as fleeing criminals.”
Jumsah’s body was found by troops Saturday nearly a kilometer (about half a mile) from where troops clashed with his group near the mountain village of Tanum in Patikul, provincial military spokesman Lt. Col. Gerald Monfort said.
U.S. and Australian anti-terrorism units have been helping monitor Jumsah, who had laid low but played a key role in plotting attacks, training militants and arranging the entry of Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian militants to the southern Philippines, military officials said.
Military units had specifically targeted Jumsah along with Abu Sayyaf commander Hajan Sawadjaan for their roles in recent and planned suicide attacks.
A member of the brutal Abu Sayyaf militant group in Sulu, Jumsah was one of a handful of Arabic speaking local militants who developed strong contacts with the Islamic State group, helping the Middle East-based militant network to establish a presence in the southern Philippines after major battle defeats in Syria and Iraq.
Jumsah served as a bomb-making instructor and arranged the transfer of foreign funds and movement of foreign militants for the suicide attacks. He also acted as an Arabic translator for militant ceremonies joined in by foreign militants shortly before they set out to die in suicide bombings, a military combat officer told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to speak publicly.
Jumsah and Sawadjaan, who remains at large, have been blamed for plotting the Jan. 27 suicide bombing by a suspected Indonesian militant couple at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Sulu’s main island of Jolo that killed 23 people, including the bombers, and wounded scores of other churchgoers and soldiers.
The Jolo cathedral attack renewed terrorism fears across the Philippines and Southeast Asia. President Rodrigo Duterte ordered troops to destroy the Abu Sayyaf following the bombing, leading to a renewed military offensive in the south.
In July, two suicide attackers separately detonated explosives on a military combat base in Indanan, killing the two militants. Authorities later confirmed through DNA tests of the remains of the attackers that at least one was a Filipino, the first known local militant to carry out a suicide attack.
A suspected Egyptian female militant perished in the third suicide attack in Sulu that she staged in September outside an army encampment in Sulu’s Indanan town. Regional military chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said then that the bomber failed to enter the encampment and the blast failed to cause injuries because alert troops took cover when she refused to back away.
Early this month, troops killed three militants in a gunbattle in Indanan town, including an Egyptian father and his son, who allegedly were on their way to carry out a suicide attack but opened fire on soldiers manning a checkpoint. Troops recovered two suicide vests rigged with metal pipe bombs from the two Egyptians and a Filipino militant who were traveling on motorcycles, Sobejana said.