Three police commandos and a government militia member were injured during an ambush in southern Sulu province by a faction of the Abu Sayyaf militant group believed to be linked to the Islamic State, the Philippine military said Thursday.
Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr., commander of the Joint Task Force Sulu, said the commandos were joined by members of the local government militia on a patrol when they were attacked by the militants.
Vinluan said the militants could have been responding to the killings of an Abu Sayyaf sub leader and five others in November during the rescue of a British hostage and his Filipina wife.
“The attack could be a retaliation for the losses they incurred recently,” Vinluan said, adding that a combined force of military and police fought off the militants.
Vinluan told reporters last month that a series of clashes pushed the militants to an area where they were at a tactical disadvantage, forcing them to splinter into small groups before fleeing and abandoning Allan Arthur Hyrons and his wife, Wilma Paglinawan-Hyrons.
The couple were rescued after being held for 53 days. While Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for kidnappings for ransom, no money was paid prior to their rescue, officials said.
Meanwhile, military officials said that the firefight late Wednesday lasted for a few minutes before the militants withdrew. Troops from the 6th Special Forces Battalion responded and evacuated those injured to a military camp hospital in Jolo while others pursued the militants.
Abu Sayyaf, the smallest of several armed groups operating in the restive south, is considered the most brutal one. Three years ago, members of the group beheaded two Canadian hostages and a German captive after their governments refused to pay ransoms following their kidnappings.