Abu Sayyaf, military clash in Sulu, 11 dead

Soldiers encounter Abu Sayyaf bandits during tracking operations in Bgy Tugas, Patikul

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – At least eleven people were killed and 19 others were wounded as soldiers clashed with members of the Abu Sayyaf Group in Patikul, Sulu, Saturday morning, May 25. 

Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Col Rodrigo Gregorio said members of Force Recon CL-18 were conducting tracking and pursuit operations in Bgy Tugas at around 6:30 am Saturday, following a series of abductions in the area. It was then that they they encountered the rebels, triggering a firefight between the two sides. 

Gregorio said at least 7 marines and at least 4 Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed, including a commander known as “Apong Idol” and a member identified as Kausar Sawadjaan. 

Agence France-Presse, quoting armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brig Gen Domingo Tutaan, however reported there were 5 Abu Sayyaf members killed in the battle.

At least 10 Abu Sayyaf members and 9 marines were also injured. The firefight lasted over an hour. 

The wounded marines were airlifted to a military hospital in the southern port of Zamboanga, Tutaan said, adding none of their injuries was life-threatening.

Meanwhile, joint military and police forces under the Jolo Internal Defense Force apprehended a group of alleged “extortionists” armed with .45 caliber pistols at El Madina Restaurant in Jolo, Sulu. 

Col Jose Johriel Cenabre, Commander of the 2nd Marine Brigade, said one of the alleged extortionists was wounded in the exchange of fire. The apprehended men were turned over to local police afterwards. 

Cenabre said that it is “likely” that the group was connected with the Abu Sayyaf. 

 Police forces in Sulu have been placed on heightened alert as the military continues to pursue the bandits. 

The Abu Sayyaf Group is believed to be holding Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, who was abducted in Jolo City in June 2012. 

Their latest victim is believed to be medical technologist Casilda Villarasa, wife of Sgt Faustino Villarasa, who was abducted on May 18.

Founded using seed money from al-Qaeda in the 1990s, the Abu Sayyaf is blamed for the worst terror attacks in the country, including the firebombing of a ferry in Manila Bay and kidnappings of foreign tourists.

The group is on the US government’s list of so-called foreign terrorist organizations.

About 600 American troops have been rotating through the southern Philippines for a decade to help train local troops in hunting the Abu Sayyaf, who enjoy local support at their bases in some of the poorest areas of the Philippines.with a report from Agence France-Presse

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