By Martin Sadongdong
Following the tragic death of 11 Philippine Army soldiers at the hands of Abu Sayyaf (ASG) bandits, the grandson of a top commander of the terror group has been slain by the military in a pursuit operation in Talipao, Sulu, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) revealed on April 19, Sunday.
Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom), identified the fatality only through his first name “Vikram,” the grandson of ASG commander Radullan Sahiron.
According to Sobejana, elements of Joint Task Force Sulu received a
“reliable” information about the presence of Vikram in Talipao town. The JTF Sulu then tracked the movement of Vikram, who was aboard a motorcycle with an unidentified cohort, until they intercepted him in Barangay Bilaan around 9:45 p.m. on April 18.
The troops were fired upon by Vikram and his cohort, prompting soldiers to engage in a running gunfight. Eventually, Vikram was hit and left by his cohort lying dead on the road as the latter made good of his escape.
“Nag-scamper [sic] kasi sila, they were reduced into splintered groups para hindi madaling ma-detect. Eh cordoned na natin ‘yung area plus the support of the locals, madali na natin silang mahuhuli kung lalabas man sila (They have scattered in different directions, they have been reduced to splintered groups for them not to be easily detected. However, the area has been cordoned off plus [we have] the support of the locals, we can easily catch them if they reveal themselves),” Sobejana said.
The remains of the slain Abu was brought to Kuta Heneral Teodulfo Bautista Station Hospital in Jolo, Sulu for proper disposition.
Who is Vikram?
Aside from being the grandson of ASG commander Sahiron, Vikram had established himself in the ASG community as a notorious bomb maker.
Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, said Vikram took part in the armed encounter on Friday, April 17, in Patikul, Sulu, which left 11 members of the 21st Infantry Battalion (21 IB) dead and 14 others wounded.
The soldiers figured in a clash with about 40 members of an ASG faction under the direct command of Sahiron and Hadjan Sawadjaan, another ASG commander who is regarded as the “emir” or leader of the Islamic State operations in Southeast Asia.
The soldiers were playing a support role to a group of elite Ranger scouts who were running after Sahiron and Sawadjaan when they were attacked by the bandits. The encounter was a follow-up to two major engagements days prior, which resulted in the killing of several ASG bandits.
Further, Vinluan said Vikram was also among those who made the improvised explosive device (IEDs) that were used in the twin bombings at the Jolo Cathedral in Sulu on January 27, 2019, which also involved two Indonesian suicide bombers. The attack claimed the lives of 20 people and injured over 100 others.
Vikram was also tagged in the attack at the command post of the Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team in Indanan, Sulu on June 28, 2019, involving two suicide bombers, one of whom was identified as the first known Filipino suicide bomber. Three soldiers, three civilians, and the two bombers died in the attack.
Sobejana said relentless pursuit operations were being conducted against the Abu Sayyaf Group, especially the faction that was involved in the recent killing of the 11 Army troopers.
“Talagang pakay natin na maubos na itong mga ‘to para magkaroon na ng freedom from the threats itong mga tao sa Sulu. Sobra na ‘yung perwisyo na ginagawa nila. Isa pa, ‘yung imahe ng probinsya ‘yung at stake (We really aim to defeat them so that the people of Sulu will be free from threats. They have inflicted too much harm. The image of the province is also at stake),” the WestMinCom chief stressed.
He said there are about 200 ASG bandits still operating in Sulu.
Fallen heroes honored
Meanwhile, the 11 soldiers who died on the April 17 encounter were honored in a sendoff ceremony held at the Edwin Andrews Air Base in Sta. Maria, Zamboanga City on April 18. The remains of the fallen soldiers were transported to their respective hometowns via a military aircraft.
Eight coffins draped with the Philippine flag arrived at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City on Saturday night.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, AFP Chief Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., Army Chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, and other top military and defense officials paid tribute to the slain soldiers in an emotional arrival ceremony.
The remains of the eight soldiers were brought back to their hometowns in Luzon, one was flown to Visayas, and two others were in Mindanao.
“The Philippine Army and the whole Philippine defense organization mourns the death of its soldiers. In honor of their sacrifice for the nation, we assure the bereaved families that we will take care of them and extend to them the necessary assistance that they need,” Gapay said.
“On behalf of a grateful nation and a proud Army, we salute you,” he added.
Meanwhile, Sobejana visited the 14 wounded soldiers recuperating at Camp Bautista to award them with the Wounded Personnel Medal, a recognition given to members or civilian employees of the AFP who got injured in combat with the enemy.
“In honor of our fallen heroes, we will continue with our deliberate operations to identified lairs of the ASG to continuously debilitate their manpower and strength,” he said.