AFP raises doubts on ISIS claim in Basilan clash

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(File photo) At least 18 soldiers and five Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) fighters were killed in a 10-hour gun battle on April 9. It was the biggest single-day combat casualty suffered by government forces in the area since 2011.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) denied ISIS hand in recent clashes between soldiers and the Abu Sayyaf Group which killed 18 soldiers in Basilan on April 9.

Also read: Basilan clash: What we know so far

This is despite reports that the terror group ISIS claimed responsibility for the bloody encounter.

A Reuters report cited this statement from ISIS: "With the grace of god we were able to detonate seven trucks carrying soldiers."

CNN Philippines cannot independently verify the authenticity of this statement.

But AFP Spokesperson BGen. Restituto Padilla told CNN Philippines on Thursday (April 14) that contrary to what the ISIS reportedly claimed, there were no trucks hit by bombs during the fighting.

With inconsistencies such as this, Padilla raised doubts on the reported ISIS claim. 

“Our initial assessment is that this is part of the propaganda that ISIS or the Daesh is trying to do on the part of the groups here in the Philippines,” Padilla said.

At least 18 soldiers and five Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) fighters were killed in a 10-hour gun battle in Tipo-Tipo town on April 9.

Following more clashes, the AFP said the number of militants killed had risen to 31 by Thursday (April 14), but the statistic is still being validated.

The AFP said it is looking into whether the Abu Sayyaf has aligned with ISIS.

Read: "Who are the Abu Sayyaf?"

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But there is so far no clear, direct link between local terror groups and ISIS, Padilla said. 

He admitted though that the Philippines could be a target of ISIS recruiters because of its young Muslim population.

Terrorism expert: Abu Sayyaf has joined ISIS

The Basilan faction of the Abu Sayyaf has now joined the ISIS, international terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna told CNN Philippines on Thursday.

“The Philippine government must understand that there has (been) a change in the loyalties of Abu Sayyaf Basilan and they no longer identify themselves as Abu Sayyaf but as IS,” said Gunaratna, who is the head of Singapore’s International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR). 

He added that while the group led by Radullan Sahiron is not linked with ISIS, the Basilan faction led by Isnilon Hapilon is now directly reporting to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The military says Hapilon, whose son Ubaida was killed in the recent Basilan clash, led the attack against the soldiers.

Gunaratna urged the Philippine government not to downplay the issue.