ZAMBOANGA CITY – Abu Sayyaf gunmen killed six army soldiers and wounded 4 others in an ambush in Basilan, one of five provinces under the restive Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines, officials said Thursday.
Officials said the soldiers were pursuing a band of militants when gunmen — mostly supporters and relatives of Abu Sayyaf fighters – ambushed them on Wednesday in Upper Cabengbeng village in Sumisip, hometown of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv Hataman.
“As they edged towards the circumferential road, operating troops were met with heavy fire by lawless elements believed to be relatives and sympathizers of the Abu Sayyaf bandits,” said Colonel Juvymax Uy, commander of the anti-terror Joint Task Force Basilan.
He said two of the Abu Sayyaf leaders involved in the fighting have been identified as Siar Alhamsirol and Parong Tedi who managed to escape the military operation.
The heavy fighting, according to Uy, lasted over four hours and needed air force bombers to support ground troops battling the militants. The clashes were so intense that the army had to deploy the 64th and 68th Infantry Battalions to augment members of the 18th Battalion fighting the Abu Sayyaf.
The Western Mindanao Command said on Thursday that the bodies of the slain soldiers were handed over to the grieving families. The wounded soldiers are now in a military hospital here where they are being treated for gunshot wounds.
“We are sad to report the death of six of your soldiers during the encounter yesterday in Basilan,” said Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, Jr., chief of the Western Mindanao Command.
He said military operations against the Abu Sayyaf and their support groups were continuing in Basilan, just several nautical miles south of Zamboanga City. “As we mourn, combat operations against the bandits will be intensified with our intelligence operations and sustained campaign to defeat the remaining terrorists. Rest assured that this will not stop us from crushing the enemies of the state,” Galvez said.
Both Galvez and Hataman have previously trumpeted victory against the Abu Sayyaf and the surrender of many of its fighters in Sumisip and other parts of Basilan and claiming the government is winning the war against terrorism in the province. AL JACINTO