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ZAMBOANGA CITY – Former Muslim rebels, who signed a peace deal with Manila, killed at least 4 Abu Sayyaf militants – tagged in the kidnappings of Indonesian sailors – in fierce clashes Tuesday in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, security officials said.

Officials said among those killed were a lieutenant of Abu Sayyaf leader Alhabsy Misaya, whose group was tagged by the military as behind the spate of ransom kidnappings in Sabah, Malaysia.

The fighting erupted in the town called Kalingalan Caluang where the Abu Sayyaf was believed holding several Indonesian hostages, but there were no reports whether any of the captives had been rescued or killed during the clashes in Tanjung village between the ISIS-affiliate militants and the larger Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Nur Misuari.

It was unknown what triggered the fighting or whether the MNLF launched an operation to rescue the hostages.

Security officials said the four slain militants, including their automatic weapons, had been recovered by the MNLF fighters headed by commanders Taib Sahibad, Alih Kipli and Abraham Joel.

There have been no reports of casualties on the side of the MNLF, which signed a peace deal with the government in September 1996.

One of those killed by the MNLF forces had been identified by the military as Jennor Lahab, alias Commander Jim Dragon, and probably his son. Lahab was reported to be one of the aides of Misaya, a notorious militant leader.

Misaya was a former MNLF member, but had split with the group and joined the Abu Sayyaf several years ago after Misuari reportedly ordered his execution, according to military intelligence reports.

The MNLF has previously negotiated with another Abu Sayyaf faction for the safe release of kidnapped Indonesian sailors in Sulu just this year. (With a report from Ely Dumaboc.)

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