Three Marines and seven Filipino Abu Sayyaf militants were killed in clashes on the southern Philippine island of Jolo where the gunmen have been holding several hostages, the military said Saturday.
Three other Marines were wounded and 12 militants were captured following Friday clashes involving about 50 Abu Sayyaf gunmen, regional military chief Lt. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega said.
The troops were patrolling jungle areas in Jolo’s Patikul town when they encountered the fighters, triggering the violence, he said.
“We are sad to report that we lost three of our valiant Marines during the course of the fight,” Dela Vega said. “We ask for prayers from all peace-loving people of the country for their eternal repose and for the speedy recovery of the three others who were wounded during the encounter.”
The rebels withdrew into the jungle and were being pursued by the military Saturday.
Regional military spokesman Col. Gerry Besana said the identities of the slain Marines were withheld pending notification of their immediate families. The wounded soldiers were being treated at a military hospital in Jolo.
The Abu Sayyaf, or Bearers of the Sword, is the most brutal militant group operating in the southern Philippines and has been engaged in kidnappings and bombings. In February 2017, Abu Sayyaf members beheaded a German hostage. A year earlier, two Canadian hostages suffered the same fate.
The group is holding 12 hostages, including three Indonesians, one Vietnamese, one Dutch and seven Filipinos, the military has said.
In September, 18 members of the Abu Sayyaf’s faction on the nearby island of Basilan were charged for their roles in a July suicide bomb attack that killed 11 people. The Islamic State (IS) had claimed one of its fighters, a Moroccan national, had carried out the bombing, a claim discredited by the Filipino military.
Last year, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, led a siege of the southern city of Marawi, leaving 1,200 people dead, most of them militants. The five-month siege ended in October with the death of Hapilon, although the government said dozens of militants escaped from the city.