KOTA KINABALU: The most notorious Abu Sayyaf commander, Al Habsi Misaya, the man who has been terrorising Sabah with his kidnappings and murders, has been killed.
Al Habsi, the violent drug addict responsible for the beheading of Malaysian Bernard Then, was shot dead while riding a motorcycle with another Abu Sayyaf member, Barak Sahibul, the son of sub-commander Hatib Ummal Sahibul, in Jolo island.
Sources said they were fleeing marine operations in the Silang area of Parang on the island when they were killed at 7.45pm on Friday.
The death of Al Habsi is seen by both the Filipino and Malaysian intelligence as a major blow to the extremist group responsible for dozens of kidnappings on both sides of southern Philippines and the eastern Sabah sea borders.
Most of their key leaders have either been killed or arrested over the past few months during the intensified military operations against the group.
“We believe there is only 25% of the group’s members left.
“They should be wiped out in the follow-up mopping-up operations in the southern Philippines,” an intelligence source told The Star.
He said the main leaders were more or less neutralised with only some of their “tentacles” left.
The source said several other Abu Sayyaf leaders, including the Sawadjaan brothers – sub commander Sarip Muna and sub commander Halipa (a former Sandakan-based smuggler turned kidnapper) – were still at large.
“They can’t do much but they are becoming desperate. That is why they are still dangerous,” the source said.
The source said it was now a matter of time before these leaders were arrested or killed in the all-out offensive against the Abu Sayyaf ordered by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.
“The key leaders are on the run with limited places to hide,” said the source, adding that the Philippines security forces were combing the Tawi-Tawi chain of islands along Sabah’s borders.
The Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) has also been maintaining a tight border security to stop them fleeing into Sabah.
Al Habsi’s death comes hardly two weeks after his right-hand man and Abu Sayyaf media-savvy spokesman, Muamar Askali @ Abu Rami, was killed while leading a group to the Philippines central Visayas region where they were planning a major kidnapping plot.
Al Habsi financed and provided weapons to the cross-border kidnap groups, who took their victims to their Jolo stronghold and from where they demanded millions of pesos for the release of the hostages.
Al Habsi is believed to have demanded for more money from negotiators when he grabbed Sarawakian Then from another Abu Sayyaf commander Indang Susukan (believed killed), who was then releasing Then and Ocean King Seafood Restaurant manageress Thien Nyuk Fun in November 2015.
However, when he failed to get more money, Al Habsi ordered the beheading of Then on Nov 17, 2015.
Then and Thien were kidnapped from the Sandakan restaurant on May 14, 2015.
Al Habsi was also behind the July 12, 2014 kidnapping of policeman Zakiah Aleip and the murder of Kpl Ab Rajah Jamuan during the raid at Pulau Mabul in Semporna.
He was also linked to the April 2, 2014 Singgamata Reef Resort kidnapping of Chinese student Gao Huayun and resort worker Marcy Darawan.
Al Habsi, who reportedly has sizeable properties in Zamboanga and Jolo, allegedly from his kidnap-for-ransom operations, has also been blamed for the abduction of dozens of Malaysian, Indonesian and Vietnamese sailors and fishermen on both sides of the border.
Philippines military chief General Eduardo Ano said his body was identified by military officials and captured Abu Sayyaf militants.
“We consider him the most notorious kidnapper from that bandit group and this is a big setback for the Abu Sayyaf,” said Ano, adding that Al Habsi’s men were still holding several Vietnamese sailors in Jolo jungles.
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