SULU – At least four Abu Sayyaf militants were killed and 7 soldiers wounded in fierce clashes early Sunday in the southern Filipino province of Sulu where security forces are searching for foreigners kidnapped by the notorious group linked to ISIS, officials said.
Officials said members of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 3 clashed with about 30 militants under Abu Sayyaf commanders Sansibar Bensio and Hatib Munap Binda in Mount Bawis in Panamao town.
Army Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokeswoman for the Western Mindanao Command, said troops were sent to the town late Saturday following intelligence reports that the militants were holding several captives in the area.
“Upon arrival in the area, our troops were fired upon by the enemy, resulting to an exchange of gun fires,” Petinglay said, quoting a report from Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu.
“Our troops were very careful because we believe there were kidnap victims with the Abus, however, the bandits fired at our marines first prompting our forces to fire back. Due to the superior firepower of the government forces, the bandits were forced to withdraw and escape,” Sobejana said, adding, the soldiers were still tracking down the militants and their hostages.
Petinglay said troops recovered the bodies of the slain militants, including an M14 rifle. The identities of the dead remain unknown, but the military, according to Petinglay, is coordinating with local officials to determine the names of those killed in the fighting.
She said the wounded soldiers had been evacuated to hospital. Their conditions were not made public by Petinglay, but General Carlito Galvez, the regional military commander, has asked the public to pray for the wounded soldiers. “We ask for prayers from all peace-loving people of the country, that our wounded soldiers be able to successfully face the battle in the operating tables. Despite the expertise of our doctors, your prayers will be the most powerful tool for them to stay alive and be well again,” he said in a statement sent to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.
Galvez said the operation against the Abu Sayyaf is continuing in Sulu, one of 5 provinces under the restive Muslim autonomous region. “We will not stop until we rescue all hostages and until we neutralize all these terrorists. Our soldiers are out there hunting for them ready to fight and die just to attain peace in our communities especially in Sulu. I once again enjoin everyone to help and support your Armed Forces through Western Mindanao Command in this fight to eliminate terror here in the region,” he said.
The Abu Sayyaf is believe holding about a dozen hostages in the region. (Mindanao Examiner)
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