ZAMBOANGA CITY: Five Abu Sayyaf rebels were killed and at least 11 soldiers were wounded in a brief but fierce firefight that erupted in Sulu, where security forces are battling the Islamic State-affiliate group blamed for the grisly murder of a kidnapped German yachter, officials said on Thursday.
Army Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the Western Mindanao Command, said fighting broke out on Wednesday in the remote mountain village of Bud Taran in Indanan town where troops – searching for other kidnapped victims – caught up with a band of rebels and engaged them for 10 minutes.
The government soldiers wounded were evacuated to a military hospital in Jolo town.
“Troops of the 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion encountered the Abu Sayyaf members. Heavy skirmishes ensued resulting in the wounding of a soldier, while 10 other personnel suffered minor splinter injuries. Casualties are yet to be determined on the enemy’s side; however, gathered reports from sources say that the Abus suffered five killed from their end,” Petinglay said.
She added that security forces were running after the Abu Sayyaf in the town where the German Jurgen Kantner, 70, was beheaded on February 26 after his family failed to pay P30 million in ransom to the bandits.
Kantner was kidnapped while sailing in a yacht with his wife Sabine Merz, 56, after Abu Sayyaf gunmen intercepted them just several nautical miles from the southern province of Tawi-Tawi in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The woman was dead and naked when found by soldiers in the boat. A shotgun was also recovered near her body.
Major General Carlito Galvez, Western Mindanao Command chief, ordered troops to intensify their operations against the Abu Sayyaf and to rescue over two dozen Asian sailors kidnapped by rebels off Sabah in Malaysia and the provinces of Tawi-Tawi and Basilan in Mindanao.
“The Joint Task Force Sulu led by Col. Cirilito Sobejana continues to intensify the conduct of offensives against the Abu Sayyaf to neutralize the bandits and ensure the rescue of the remaining hostages. All measures are undertaken in accordance with the rules of engagement and with support from the local government and the populace,” he said as he appealed to citizens to help authorities by providing information on the Abu Sayyaf.
Galvez echoed what other senior military officials vowed, saying he would crush the Abu Sayyaf in six months.
“Terrorism is a sickening problem that needs all sectors of society’s cooperation for it to be defeated. With the renewed vigor of those who are against it, we are optimistic that we will be able to crush the bandits within six months.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called Abu Sayyaf rebels “animals” and vowed that they will feel the wrath of the nation through the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
“What we can assure them and the whole world is that we are going after these animals with the full force of the law. Make no mistake, they will feel the wrath of the entire Filipino nation through the might of its armed forces,” Lorenzana said.
Arsenio Andolong, director of the Department of National Defense’s Public Affairs Service, said Lorenzana was sad and angry with the beheading of the German hostage.
“I think he is taking this very personally,” Andolong said.
He said the defense chief has issued further guidance to the AFP to hasten the decimation of the ASG.
“What he gave the AFP is set to motion certain mechanisms to speed it up and this will involve resources, disposition of troops and a doctrine that I cannot discuss at the moment, but there will be certain changes on the ground,” Andolong said.
WITH FERNAN MARASIGAN