A soldier was killed and 10 others were wounded during a firefight between government troops and a large group of Abu Sayyaf fighters on Jolo island in the southern Philippines, the military said Thursday.
Soldiers from the 32nd Infantry Battalion were patrolling in a remote jungle area near the town of Patikul on Wednesday, when they encountered an Abu Sayyaf contingent numbering about 60 militants, touching off a gun battle.
“An intermittent firefight lasted for two hours, which resulted in the death of one soldier and wounding of 10 others,” the military’s regional command said in a statement. “Casualties on the enemy side are yet to be determined.”
Brig. Gen. Rey Pabayo, commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu, said reinforcements had been deployed to block withdrawing Abu Sayyaf fighters.
“We believe that a number of bandits were wounded and probably could have died due to loss of blood after yesterday’s encounter,” he said.
The rebel fighters were identified as followers of Hajan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf commander in the area allegedly responsible for past atrocities in Jolo, including abductions and killings.
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is a small band of Islamic radicals that was founded in the early 1990s to fight for an Islamic state in the southern Philippines. The group, however, degenerated into a criminal enterprise after its leader died. In recent years, ASG has become notorious for beheadings and kidnapping people for ransom.
The Abu Sayyaf is currently believed to be holding 12 hostages, including three Indonesians, one Vietnamese, one Dutch national and seven Filipinos. Two Canadians and a German were beheaded over the last two years after their governments refused to pay ransom.
One of ASG’s commanders, Isnilon Hapilon, later pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State, and led his fighters into taking over the city of Marawi last year.
Backed by militants from Southeast Asia and the Middle East, Hapilon’s group sacked the lakeshore city on Mindanao island, provoking battle that lasted five months, ruined Marawi and left about 1,200 dead, who were mostly enemy fighters. Hapilon was killed in October, ending the siege.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines contributed to this report.