MANILA-Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Gen. Eduardo Año on Wednesday confirmed that Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leader Abu Rami was one of the six bandits killed in the encounter with government troops in Inabanga town, Bohol.
Gen. Eduardo Ano, the military's chief of staff, said troops recovered and identified the remains of Moammar Askali, also known as Abu Rami, at the scene of the battle in a far-flung coastal village on Bohol island.
Ano described the death of Abu Rami as "a very big accomplishment and a big blow against the Abu Sayyaf".
Abu Sayyaf is still holding at least 29 people in the jungles of Sulu province, many of them foreign ship crew kidnapped on the sea border with Malaysia and Indonesia.
Askali has been linked to the kidnapping and beheading of two Canadians past year and a German in February.
Ano adds that Askali was "trying to make a name of his own, trying to arrange a career" to replace Abu Sayyaf's current leaders.
Sporadic gunbattles between the remaining Abu Sayyaf militants and government forces continued today, military officials said. "If they have further plans to kidnap innocent people somewhere, they will now have to think twice", said the general.
Askali was also said to be keen on expanding the Abu Sayyaf's reach and elevating the group's profile from a criminal organisation into a legitimate affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The group has carried out numerous kidnappings, bombings and beheadings since its formation in the 1990s.
Authorities believe Askali was plotting to become the overall leader of the group. In 2001, they sailed as far as western Palawan province, where they seized 20 people, including three Americans, from a resort.
The clash happened after the United States, Canadian, Australian and British embassies warned citizens about kidnappings during the holiday and advised against travel to Central Visayas, which includes Cebu and Bohol.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in June, has ordered troops to destroy the extremists and has threatened to declare martial law in the country's south if the threat posed by Abu Sayyaf and other extremist groups aligned with the Islamic State group gets out of control.
Ano said the gang, which arrived on three boats, had planned to acclimatise in the area and send scouts into resorts to scope out kidnapping targets.
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