The military on Sunday described the foreigner killed during Saturday's bloody clash with Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Basilan as a bomb instructor and a jihadist preacher.
In a statement, Major Filemon Tan of the Western Mindanao Command said Mohammad Khattab, a Moroccan national, "was trying to organize and unite local lawless armed groups and KFRGs (kidnap for ransom groups) to link with international terrorist groups as well as spread radicalism and extremism."
In a separate interview, Army chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano revealed that Khattab had been living in the Philippines for the past three years.
"Pero last year, for the past one year, pumasok na siya sa radar ng intelligence natin because siya iyong conduit ng Abu Sayyaf, tying to link up the Abu Sayyaf group to the Middle East international terrorist group," he said.
Ano said Khattab was trying to become a "go-between" of Abu Sayyaf and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), and wanted to assume the roles once held by other international terrorists like Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan.”
Ano also said Khattab was an expert in making improvised explosive devices.
Basilan clash casualties
Eighteen soldiers were killed while six were critically wounded during the hours-long firefight in Barangay Baguindan in Basilan's Tipo-Tipo town. The military said five were killed on the enemy side, including Khattab and Ubaida Hapilon, son of senior ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon.
Armed Forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the terrorists attempted to behead two of the slain soldiers.
"May attempted beheading ng dalawang tropa pero narecover namin agad, na-prevent yun," Padilla said.
In an interview on GMA News TV's Balitanghali, Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato of the Armed Forces' public information office said the encounter lasted for 10 hours.
"Pag ganun kasi ang terrain, maraming puwedeng pagtaguan. Dikitan ang labanan. Halos mga 10 meters lang. Ang ating tropa... fought valiantly kaya nagresulta sa maraming namatay," he said.
Tan said the wounded soldiers were all taken to military hospitals in Zamboanga City and are undergoing treatment as of Sunday.
He added the pursuit operations against the Abu Sayyaf will continue.
"Military operations will continue without let up as we seek the withdrawing bandits and hold them accountable for their crimes," he said.
"Our soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice so that the people of Basilan will be free from terrorists and secure a peaceful and bright future for their next generation," he added.
Padilla said AFP chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri has ordered troops to go after the terrorists.
"There should be no halt in the operations, our operations are ongoing. Hindi dapat sayangin yung mga buhay ng mga tropa na nawala. We must work hard in performing our mission para masugpo sila," Padilla said.
"The chief of staff was saddened (by the incident) but we must continue our mission so the lives that were lost wont be wasted," he added. — Kiersnerr Gerwin Tacadena and Mark Merueñas/KBK/RSJ, GMA News