MANILA - The commander of the Western Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Tuesday disputed reports that Abu Sayyaf Group sub-leader Mundi Sawadjaan, who is suspected to be involved in the Aug. 24 twin blasts in Jolo. Sulu, has already left the island province.
Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan said Sawadjaan is still in Sulu’s Patikul town where troops continue to track him.
"That's not true. He is still really in Sulu as of this (time)… He is still in Patikul. Our troops are running after him," Vinluan told reporters in a phone interview when asked about claims that Sawadjaan, along with two other suspects, are already either in Zamboanga City or somewhere in Central Mindanao.
Vinluan believes the reports are meant to divert the military's attention.
"The group of Mundi is already having a hard time. So, they are going to find a way to diver our attention. They'll come up with report that they are already in Central Mindanao or Zamboanga," Vinluan said.
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco said Monday that Zamboanga region is facing a security threat from Sawadjaan and his 2 conspirators.
Zamboanga authorities have set up checkpoints and will put up photos of Sawadjaan and his cohorts, Climaco added.
Government troops and the group of Sawadjaan clashed in Barangay Kabbon Takkas in Patikul on Saturday, leaving two Abu Sayyaf members and a soldier dead, and seven other soldiers injured.
According to Vinluan, another clash against Sawadjaan and his group is still possible.
"Our troops are still there. They'll just encounter the group again (if they catch up on them)," he said.
A military official earlier said Sawadjaan was the brains behind the recent Jolo blasts that killed at least 15 people and wounded over 70 others, and another double bombing at a cathedral there last year, where more than 20 died.
The latest attack in Jolo came about a week after the arrest of Abu Sayyaf leader Abduljihad Susukan, who is accused of kidnapping and beheading several foreigners.