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Death toll in Sulu ambush now 23

SURVIVOR: A government health worker attends to a survivor of the July 28 ambush that killed at least 23 in Talipao, Sulu. Photo by Ben Hajan/EPA

SURVIVOR: A government health worker attends to a survivor of the July 28 ambush that killed at least 23 in Talipao, Sulu.

Photo by Ben Hajan/EPA

MANILA, Philippines – The death toll in the Sulu ambush has risen to 23 as two more, a father and his son, succumbed to serious injuries Tuesday, July 29.

"As of 11 am, the death toll in Sulu is already 23... The AFP provided medical teams and evacuated the wounded from the encounter site. It is believed that about 50 Abu Sayyaf members led by Indang Susukan and Sibih Pisih attacked the convoy of 40 civilians and 10 BPAT (Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team) members," said Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala Tuesday.

The ambush happened on Monday, July 28, as Muslims all over the world observe Eid al-Fitr. (READ: 21 civilians killed in Sulu ambush)

Wounded 3-year-old Termiji Tambrin died 6 am on Tuesday while he was aboard commercial vessel M/V Danica 2 going to Zamboanga City, according to a police report. His father, Ahadani Tambrin, 45, also died 830 am on Tuesday while he was undergoing medication at the Western Mindanao Medical Center in Zamboanga City.  

"We still do not know the reason behind the attack but there are assumptions that the BPAT members were the target. The police is investigating," said Zagala.

BPAT works with government security forces in maintaining peace. Zagala said the ambush may be a retaliatory act against them. Among the dead are children and elderly, however.

Children and elderly

The victims include children as young as 2 and elderly as old as 85. The police identied 21 of the 23 fatalities as the following:

'Long way to go'

The ambush happened amid intensified military operations in Sulu. The military admits the situation is "complex."

"There are complexities in the conflict in the area. We cannot totally say that this incident results in failure of what we are doing. Definitely, this will not hamper our peace and development efforts," said Zagala.

Zagala said the military has been continuously operating in Sulu for over a month but the security environment remains a challenge.

"We are doing our best but, of course, we have a long way to go especially in changing the mindset of the community. We hope that incident does not hamper the efforts that we have already started in the past," he added.

Pursuit operations against the identified Abu Sayyaf members is now a priority, he said.

The military has one brigade – 2nd Marine Brigade under Brigadier General Martin Pinto – in Sulu. It has 5 battalions are or about 2,000 troops. In comparison, only one battalion or about 500 troops is deployed in neighboring Tawi-Tawi. 

Sulu has been witness to recent bloody incidents involving the Abu Sayyaf and government troops. Only last May, at least 11 were killed, including 7 Marines, in an encounter between the Abu Sayyaf and the Marines.

Previous to this, 14 members of the Abu Sayyaf were killed in an encounter with the military. – Rappler.com