Philippine troops killed two suspected Abu Sayyaf militants belonging to a faction allied with Islamic State extremists during a firefight in the southern Philippines over the weekend, the military said Monday.
Members of the 15th Scout Ranger Co. were patrolling Sunday afternoon in Sulu province when they clashed with dozens of Abu Sayyaf militants, regional military commander Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said. Two soldiers were wounded.
“Pursuit and deliberate offensives continue to pressure and pound down Abu Sayyaf fighters, constricting their movement and preempting terror ploys in the region,” Sobejana said. “We are building up combat and intelligence operations to debilitate the militants in Sulu.”
Those killed Sunday were identified as Taullah Abdurasa and Baby Ollah. Along with their bodies, troops recovered their weapons.
One day earlier, Abu Sayyaf members Suwaib Mungkay and Nakib Asmad surrendered to troops on nearby Basilan Island. Both were wanted for their alleged roles in a 2018 car bombing that killed 10 people.
The weekend violence occurred as troops intensified search operations for six captives – a local doctor and five Indonesians – believed to be held by Abu Sayyaf on Jolo island in Sulu province.
Sobejana said the militants were under the command of Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron and Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf commander and the region’s IS leader.
Sahiron is the only surviving member of the original Abu Sayyaf core group that launched cross-border kidnapping raids two decades ago. Known as the one-armed bandit, he carries a U.S. $1 million (51 million pesos) bounty offered by the U.S. government. A military assault last year killed his wife, Mingayan, but he slipped through the security cordon in Jolo.
Sahiron and Sawadjaan are believed to have planned the January 2019 Jolo church attack where Indonesian suicide bombers killed 23 people.
Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for a spate of kidnappings in recent years where Malaysian and Indonesian sailors and fishermen have been taken hostage and held for ransom.
Elsewhere in the south, troops operating in the province of Maguindanao killed two members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) during a Friday firefight, officials said.
The BIFF, which operates mostly in the central part of the Mindanao region, has pledged allegiance to the IS, but did not send fighters to participate when militants took over the city of Marawi in 2017.
That attack was led by Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who served as regional IS leader as well. Hapilon died as government troops regained control of Marawi in October 2017.
At least 1,200 militants, government troops and civilians were killed during the five-month battle.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato, Philippines, contributed to this report.