Several casualties were reported as police commandos clashed with armed men while hunting down an operative of the Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, Sunday, a police official said.

“May mga casualty sa side natin at side nila pero di pa namin makuha ang exact figure, we are still in the process of extraction,” Senior Superintendent Noel Armilla, officer-in-charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao regional police, said by phone.

The clash involved members of the PNP Special Action Force (SAF) and “lawless elements,” he said.

Earlier, around 4 a.m., SAF members conducted a special operation in Brgy. Tukanalipao, targetting an “individual linked to the Jemaah Islamiyah,” Armilla said, citing field reports.

“Fortunately, according to them, na-acomplish nila ang mission nila, pero habang nagwi-withdraw sila in-engage sila ng lawless elements sa marshland area, that was around 9 to 10 a.m.,” he said.

The clash lasted for hours and “sporadic fighting” is still occuring, Armilla said when reached by phone 7 p.m.

Reinforcements from different units of the ARMM police, and the Army’s mechanized brigade have been sent, he said.

Other policemen, personnel of the local government unit, and the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team are now also in the area to help fetch the casualties and monitor the situation, Armilla said.

Sources said that the SAF operation targetted Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan, a Malaysian bomb expert.

Marwan is wanted by the U.S. government, which is offering US$ 5 million for his capture.

He was previously reported to have died in a military air strike in Sulu province in 2012. (John Roson)

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