Philippine troops killed five Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants during a firefight on the southern island of Jolo that left seven soldiers injured, the military said Monday.
Elite troops with Marine Battalion Landing Team 3 were patrolling a remote village in Panamao town when ASG fighters attacked them on Sunday, regional military task force chief Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said. The firefight occurred three days after Filipino troops killed three militants in another southern province.
“We got a report from civilians that militants were seen in the area. We dispatched troops and upon their arrival in the area, they were fired upon by the enemy, resulting in an exchange of gunfire,” Sobejana said.
“Our troops were very careful because we believe there were kidnap victims,” he added without elaborating.
The militants withdrew following a brief shootout, Sobejana said, adding the seven soldiers suffered non-critical injuries.
ASG is notorious for kidnappings, bombings and random attacks in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao. Within the past two years, ASG members beheaded two Canadian hostages and a German captive after their governments refused to pay ransoms. The group is believed to be holding several foreigners and Filipinos hostage.
In October 2017, the military killed Isnilon Hapilon, an ASG faction leader considered the leader of the Islamic State (IS) branch in Southeast Asia, at the end of a five-month battle in the southern city of Marawi.
Incident in Lanao del Norte
On Thursday in Lanao del Norte province, soldiers killed three suspected IS-linked militants as they clashed in Pantar town.
The police commander of Pantar, Senior Inspector Mohammad Doro, said troops under the 4th Mechanized Battalion were conducting an operation in the village of Lumba Punod when they encountered the suspects.
He said three militants including Omar Mustapha Daiser, a local who was among 100 inmates set free by Maute gunmen in Marawi last year, were killed. The bodies of the two others were retrieved by kin for Muslim burials.
Army Brig. Gen. William Alunday, commander of an anti-terror task group, said investigators had information that Daiser was working with remnants of the Maute group in efforts to recruit members.
“The joint law enforcement operations of military and police neutralized the notorious Maute-ISIS remnants in Lanao del Norte,” Alunday said, using another acronym for Islamic State.
The two shootouts followed last week’s decision by the Philippine Supreme Court to approve an extension of martial law in the south for all of 2018 to prevent what the military said was Maute gang recruitment efforts.
Majul Usman Gandamra, the mayor of Marawi City, said she believed the extension of military rule in Mindanao would prevent IS-affiliated groups from actively moving around the region to invite young Muslims to its cause.
“We believe it will help especially in addressing the possible recruitment of would-be members of ISIS-inspired groups,” Gandamra told reporters.
“But in other areas, according to reports of the military, possible recruitment is taking place, but it is being addressed by our security forces,” Gandamra added.