CEBU, PHILIPPINES - Philippine forces killed a suspected Muslim militant in new fighting Saturday in a central resort province where troops foiled possible kidnapping and bombing plots by extremists earlier this month, officials said.
Army troops and police killed Joselito Melloria in a gunbattle with about seven militants near Clarin town in Bohol province. Melloria's companions fled and were being pursued by troops, police said.
Melloria, a convert to Islam and a Bohol resident, guided Abu Sayyaf militants from their jungle encampments in the country's south to his Bohol village in Inabanga town to carry out possible ransom kidnappings and bombings. Troops, however, detected the militants and killed four of them in April 11 fighting that also left three soldiers, a policeman and two villagers dead.
Melloria fled with at least seven other militants. They were hunted in a massive search by police and the military. President Rodrigo Duterte offered a 1 million peso ($20,000) reward for information that would lead to the capture of each of the fleeing militants.
A military profile of Melloria, who uses the militant nom de guerre Abu Alih, said he converted to Islam when he married a Muslim woman in southern Zamboanga del Sur province in 2005.
After a yearlong trip to Saudi Arabia, he returned to the Philippines in 2015 and joined Maute, a small nascent group based in the south that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. He later assimilated with another IS-linked group, Ansar Khilafa Philippines, and Abu Sayyaf, the military report said.
Philippine security officials said that had the Bohol plots been successful, Melloria would have been designated to lead Ansar Khilafa Philippines, whose leader was killed in a clash with police in the south in January.
The fighting and foiled terror plots in Bohol have alarmed many and prompted Western countries to caution their citizens from traveling to the central region, because the Abu Sayyaf and other Muslim militant groups have had no known presence in the popular tourist destination.
Clarin police chief Fernando Peroramas said many villagers in his laid-back town have become jittery since the violence involving the Abu Sayyaf erupted because of the militants' brutal record.
The United States and the Philippines have blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization because of bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings.