ZAMBOANGA CITY: At least 12 Abu Sayyaf rebels and soldiers were killed in sporadic clashes in Basilan where security forces are trying to flush out members of the al-Qaeda-linked group tagged in the spate of terrorism and ransom kidnappings in the southern Philippines.
Capt. Jefferson Mamauag, 1st Infantry Division spokesperson, said 10 of those killed were rebels while two were soldiers.
Marine Captain Maria Rowena Muyuela, a spokesperson for the Western Mindanao Command identified two of the slain rebels as Assi Kalitot and Basri Musa, who were both followers of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.
She said 28 soldiers were also wounded in the clashes that began before dawn on April 11 in Ungkaya Pukan and spread to the neighboring town of Tipo-Tipo. She said military forces are pursuing Hapilon and the group of Puruji Indama and Nurhassan Jamiri, three of the most notorious leaders of the Abu Sayyaf.
“The government forces suffered 28 wounded and two killed in action. Most of the wounded suffered minor injuries caused by shrapnel and were evacuated at Camp Navarro General Hospital and are now being given medical attention. The Command is also contacting relatives of our personnel who were killed in action,” Muyuela said.
“The operation was directed towards the neutralization of the said Abu Sayyaf Group which is responsible in a number of kidnapping and extortion activities, including the Sabrina Ikbala Voon kidnap case, and the P5 million being demanded by the Abu Sayyaf from the contractor of the ongoing Magkawa to Al-Barka road project,” she added.
The 22-year old Voon was kidnapped in Zamboanga City on February 19 after gunmen disguised as policemen barged into her house in the village of Mercedes and seized her. The kidnappers have reportedly demanded P5 million from her family in exchange for the woman’s safe release.
Mamauag said troops clashed with about 60 Abu Sayyaf rebels. He said Major General Felicito Virgilio Trinidad, the division commander, ordered security forces to intensify the operations against the Abu Sayyaf.
He said two battalions of soldiers were involved in the fighting. “More troops and closed air support have been dispatched to Basilan to pursue the Abu Sayyaf and to pave the way for the normalization of the area,” Mamauag said.
Basilan, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, is a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which recently signed a peace deal with the government.
Military chief information officer, Lt Colonel Ramon Zagala said the wounded soldiers suffered minor injuries and were brought to the Camp Navarro General Hospital.