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10 killed as gov't forces foil Abu Sayyaf attack in Bohol

MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) – The military and the police on Tuesday, April 11, exchanged gunfire with "heavily armed lawless elements" in Bohol. They are believed to be members of local terrorist group Abu Sayyaf. 

Three soldiers, a cop, and at least 6 of the armed men were killed in the clashes that started at 5 am on Tuesday, according to a joint statement issued by the police and the military.

"Tactical victories have been accomplished, with 5 body counts and a number of high powered firearms recovered as of 1 pm today.... Four of our brave troops, however, made the supreme sacrifice of giving their lives during the course of the operation," reads the statement signed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Central Command chief Lieutenant General Oscar Lactao and police regional director Chief Superintendent Noli Taliño. 

Residents on Tuesday morning alerted the police of the presence of 3 pumpboats along the riverside of Sitio Ilaya of Barangay Ilaya in Inabanga town.

The encounter comes a week after the government downplayed a travel warning from the US embassy which discouraged its citizens from visiting Bohol and neighboring Cebu. 

"We want to congratulate our people in Bohol... The government security forces simply reinforced the vigilance of the Boholanos who organized themselves into a strong force to keep the province safe from any threat groups," the joint statement added.

The first clash occurred at 5:20 am. At about 7 am, AFP chief General Eduardo Año announced that the armed group was "well armed with heavy caliber weapons" but have already been cornered in "an isolated section of the sitio."

Año also announced that they had boosted the presence of local police and the military, deploying additional ground troops as well as sea and air assets to repel the armed group.  

Later on Tuesday morning, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald dela Rosa told reporters that a soldier was the first casualty of the clashes against the suspected Abu Sayyaf members.

Colonel Edgard Arevalo of the military's Public Affairs Office also confirmed this. 

The clashes were reportedly over by 1 pm. Four government forces and 5 of the armed men were killed. The military began clearing operations. 

On Wednesday morning, the government announced they recovered the body of another Abu Sayyaf member in the encounter site. He was the 6th of the armed men to be neutralized.

The Abu Sayyaf Group is notorious for its kidnap-for-ransom activities. It is also known to conduct operations in the waters of the southern Philippines, but Dela Rosa said the police had earlier gotten raw reports of kidnap threats in Central Visayas.

The miltary has stepped up operations against the Abu Sayyaf in southern Philippine islands Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi as they work to meet a self-imposed target to significantly weaken the group by June 30.

– with reports from Bea Cupin and Carmela Fonbuena / Rappler.com