Philippine military forces on Friday killed one of the country’s most-wanted Islamist militant leaders and his wife. The pair was blamed for a long series of deadly bombings, killings, extortion, and terror attacks in the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat in the southern area of Mindanao for more than a decade, the military said in a statement.

Police forces and Army Special Operations Forces from the Army’s 6ID raided a hideout of the militant group Daulah Islamiya- Hassan Group (DIHG) in a remote area of Talayan town in Maguindanao province and killed its leader, Salahuddin Hassan, and his wife in a 30-minute gunbattle before dawn. Despite more than two dozen other gunmen escaping, Filipino military officials called it a possible death knell for the group.

“With the death of their leader, we are certain that the group will crumble,” said Major General Alfredo Rosario Jr., commander of the military’s Western Mindanao Command. “This is a significant breakthrough in our campaign against terrorism in central Mindanao.”

R4 Assault rifles, ammunition, and rebel documents were seized by troops at the scene of the battle, the military said.

Salahuddin Hassan dead
The bodies of Hassan and his wife lay covered with sheets after they were killed in a shootout with military forces. (Filipino military)

“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) leadership commends the operating units from the Army’s 6th Infantry Division (6ID) for the successful operations that led to the demise of wanted terrorist leader Salahuddin Hassan,” AFP chief of staff General Jose Faustino Jr., said in a statement on Friday.

The bloody firefight saw Hassan’s group try to flee while other rebel forces engaged the 6th ID troops. During the exchange, Hassan was seriously wounded. The other rebels then abandoned Hassan and his wife, who served as the group’s finance officer, according to Colonel Pedro Balisi, the commander of the 1st Mechanized Brigade. 

Salahuddin Hassan was considered the “overall emir” of the group. The group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), in April 2015. One of its most prominent attacks was the 2016 bombing of a night market that left 15 people dead and dozens wounded in Davao city, President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown.

Daulah Islamiya was also blamed for the 2014 bombing of a bus in the country’s south. That attack killed 11 people and wounded 15 others. In June, Hassan’s men attacked and burned a bus in M’lang town in southern Cotabato province in an attack that killed four people and injured several others, the military added.

Hassan founded the extortion group Al-Khobar, which was blamed for bombings, extortion, and other attacks from 2007 to 2015. He was trained by and considered a protege of Malaysian militant, Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, military officials said. Bin Hir was among Southeast Asia’s most-wanted militants before being killed by government forces.

Daulah Islamiya terrorist group
Daulah Islamiya group with former leader Maute, who was killed by Filipino troops. (File photo)

Marwan was killed in the bloody 2015 battle in Mamasapano that resulted in 44 elite policemen being killed.

Hasan, who was also known as Orak, Salah, and Tulea also led a faction of the Dawla Islamiya terrorist group in south-central Mindanao.

Daulah Islamiya is one of several small but violent groups which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group after rejecting a 2014 peace deal by the government that granted some autonomy to the largest Muslim rebel group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Salahuddin Hassan had also long been rumored to allegedly been providing bomb-making training to militants of the Abu Sayyaf group. 

Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for bombings, ransom kidnappings, and beheadings and is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the Philippines.