Inabanga native Joselito Melloria was initially tagged as the Abu Sayyafâ€™s contact and escort in Bohol as the firefight between security forces and around 12 members of the bandit group erupted on Tuesday last week.
But as the dust started to settle and intelligence reports surfaced, Melloria emerged as someone deeply involved in terrorist activities, as revealed by an official of the Bohol Provincial Police Office who spoke in condition of anonymity.
The police source said that Melloria was with slain Muamar Askali, also known as Abu Rami, in a previous kidnap operation in Samal Island, Davao del Norte.
The Samal Island raid resulted in the kidnapping of Canadians John Ridsel, Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstand and Filipina Marites Flor last Sept. 21, 2015.
Both Canadians were beheaded while Sekkingstand and Flor were later released by their Abu Sayyaf captors.
According to the police official, 33-year-old Melloria was not born into a Muslim family. He converted to Islam in 2015.
Army Colonel Adolfo Espuelas in a press conference in Tagbilaran City on Monday said that Melloria married a daughter of a Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander based in Zamboanga del Norte.
Prior to his involvement with Askaliâ€™s group, Melloria was an overseas Filipino worker in Saudi Arabia and was employed at a construction firm, added the BPPO police officer.
Melloria was then tagged as a suspect in the murder of another Muslim while working for a mall in Tanza, Cavite.
Since Wednesday last week, government troopers have been conducting a manhunt against Melloria and around seven other Abu Sayaff bandits who survived the clash in Inabanga.
According to Espuelas, the militants are now believed to be hiding in villages near Barangay Napo in Inabanga where the encounter took place and are being led by Melloria. (Rey Tutas)