Updated at 2:25 p.m. ET on 2020-07-31
Three Filipino soldiers and six militants from a faction of Abu Sayyaf inspired by the Islamic State (IS) died Friday during a clash in a remote jungle on southern Sulu island, two days after a major clash in another region of the southern Philippines, the military said.
Members of the 32nd Infantry Battalion were on the trail of Abu Sayyaf members when they were attacked by other militants before noon, triggering fighting near the town of Patikul in Sulu province, according to Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, chief of the army’s Joint Task Force Sulu.
“It is with deep sadness to report that three of our brave soldiers succumbed to death while defending the people of Sulu,” Vinluan said.
At least six Abu Sayyaf fighters were killed but only three corpses were recovered after militants removed the others from the battle scene, he said.
The names of the soldiers killed were not immediately available as their next of kin had not been notified, said local military spokesman Maj. Arvin John Encinas of the Western Mindanao Command.
The gunbattle occurred on Eid-ul-Adha, the Muslim festival known as the Feast of the Sacrifice, one of the two most important holidays on Islam’s calendar.
Militants linked to IS
The Abu Sayyaf is a small gang of militants known for carrying out some of the country’s worst attacks, including kidnappings for ransom and bombings.
An IS-linked faction is led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan who is accused of planning and orchestrating the bombing of a Catholic church in Sulu’s capital town of Jolo that left 23 people dead in January 2019. Two Indonesian suicide bombers were killed in that incident and authorities recently said they averted similar attacks with the arrest of four militants in Manila.
Friday's deadly clash comes two days after two soldiers and at least 10 suspected militants were killed during another gun battle in the southern Philippines as troops hunted for a senior leader of a different militant group linked to IS. At least 13 soldiers were injured, a Philippine Army spokesman said.
The two-hour shootout on Wednesday with suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters militant group broke out as the army’s 57th Infantry Battalion launched an operation in marshlands near Datu Salibo, a town in Maguindanao province, officials said. The troops were searching for Ustadz Karialian, a BIFF commander also known as Imam Minimbang.
The two clashes occurred in towns that are about 750 km (465 miles) apart.