Philippines: 22 Soldiers Hurt, Militant Killed in Southern Firefight

Jeoffrey Maitem and Richel V. Umel
Cotabato and Marawi, Philippines
180824-PH-abusayyaf-620.jpg A Philippine soldier patrols a street in an abandoned section of Marawi, May 23, 2018.
Richel V. Umel/BenarNews

At least 22 government troops were wounded and a suspected Abu Sayyaf militant was killed in a fierce gun battle on the southern Philippine island of Jolo, the military said Friday.

Troops under 41st Infantry Battalion were patrolling in the village of Langhub in Patikul town on Thursday morning when they encountered a unit of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), regional army spokesman Lt. Col. Gerry Besana said.

A heavy exchange of gunfire lasted for about an hour, leaving one fighter dead on the enemy side. He was identified as Alpata Abdurasa.

“It was reported that there could be more casualties on the enemy side due to the bloodstains speckled in the area. It is yet to be determined,” Besana said.

Most of the wounded were hit by shrapnel from an explosion caused by a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, while others suffered gunshot wounds. Details about their conditions were not released.

“Rest assured all battle casualties will be given prompt and due medical treatment,” Lt. Gen.  Arnel Dela Vega said. “We will continuously intensify our operations to expedite the neutralization of the Abu Sayyaf group until the peace that the people of Sulu deserve is attained.”

Dela Vega, chief of the Army’s Western Mindanao Command, said soldiers were deployed to hunt down the perpetrators who are believed to have retreated into the jungle.

The Abu Sayyaf is blamed for the country’s worst atrocities, including bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. It was blamed for bombing a passenger ferry in 2004, killing more than 100 people in the country’s worst terrorist attack.

The group is holding several Filipino and foreign hostages in the south and in the past two years beheaded a German national and two Canadians after their governments failed to pay ransom.

Last month, the military blamed Abu Sayyaf for a car bomb that killed 11 people on the southern island of Basilan. The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility, saying a Moroccan militant was responsible.

A Filipino Muslim cleric who claimed to have assisted militants to enter Basilan has been arrested.

That attack came after President Rodrigo Duterte invited the Abu Sayyaf to peace talks following the success of negotiations with the larger separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that led to the signing of a Muslim autonomy law days before the Basilan attack.

Analysts said the ongoing attacks by Abu Sayyaf, and other smaller IS-affiliated groups in the south would continue to pose a threat despite passage of the law.


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