At least one government soldier was killed and nine other troops were wounded during a fierce gunbattle with suspected Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines on Monday, the military said.
The troops from the army’s 32nd Infantry Battalion were on a combat operation when a large contingent of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) fighters waylaid them in a jungle area in Patikul, a town on Jolo Island in Sulu province, officials said.
A one-hour firefight ensued that led to the casualties on the government side. ASG was also believed to have sustained casualties but no bodies of its fighters were found at the scene, according to regional military spokesman Maj. Arvin John Encinas.
“However, the ground forces suffered 1 killed and 9 wounded in the fierce encounter,” Encinas said. He did not disclose the names of the soldiers.
Reports from other sources in the area said the slain soldier was a young first lieutenant.
Abu Sayyaf is a small gang of Islamic militants that has been accused of being behind a rash of kidnappings, bombings and killings in the southern Philippines.
An ASG faction led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan has allied itself with the Islamic State (IS) extremist group and has been blamed for a series of bombings in the region since last year, including an attack that killed 23 people at a church on Jolo Island in January 2019. The attack was carried out by two Indonesian suicide bombers acting on Sawadjaan’s command, Philippine authorities said.
Sawadjaan took over the IS affiliate in the Philippines from Isnilon Hapilon, who in 2017 led Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern fighters in seizing the southern city of Marawi. Hapilon was killed there at the end of a five-month battle with government forces that left 1,200 people dead and the city in ruins.