22 Abus killed in Sulu battle — AFP PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 29 August 2016 14:24

The military on Sunday said that 21 Abu Sayyaf fighters have been killed in a series of firefights with troops in Sulu.

Lt. General Mayoralgo dela Cruz, commander of the Army’s Western Mindanao Command, told ABS-CBN News the battle continued on Saturday night, resulting in the deaths of three more militants whose bodies were recovered.

Unlike on the first hostility where 17 soldiers were wounded,  No one suffered injuries from the government’s side during the latest skirmish,” Dela Cruz said.

The military said soldiers found at least 10 bodies of Abu Sayyaf fighters in several encounter sites since government started assaulting the ISIS linked strongholds last August 26.

Among the fatalities, dela Cruz claimed, were three Abu Sayyaf sub-leaders, including high-ranking Muhammad Said, also known as Ama Maas.

The Abu Sayyaf on Saturday admitted that it has suffered heavy casualty —12 dead — in the first skirmish since President Rodrigo Duterte ordered his military to destroy the group after it beheaded an 18-year-old hostage.

However, Abu Rami, an Abu Sayyaf spokesperson, was quoted by ABS CBN News as denying Dela Cruz’s claim  that among those killed was Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Mohammad Said, alias Ama Maas, who has five standing murder warrants out for his arrest.

Said has been tagged as involved in the kidnapping of three foreigners from the luxurious Samal Island resort off Davao City in September last year.

Two of the foreigners — Canadians — were subsequently beheaded after a ransom failed to be paid while a Norwegian remains in captivity.

Brig.Gen. Arnel dela Vega, the commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu, told ABS-CBN News that they are validating information that one commander of the Abu Sayyaf was killed in the gunbattle.

Dela Vega said the Abu Sayyaf members were outnumbered by the soldiers who launched the attack on one of the group’s strongholds in Patikul. They were also not expecting the ground assault of the government forces, which the soldiers used as an advantage to strike simultaneously from different directions.

Meanwhile, Dela Cruz vowed that there will be no let-up in the military operation, as Wesmincom expects more troops from the national headquarters will be deployed in Sulu in the next days.

At the same time, he guaranteed that rescuing Abu Sayyaf’s captives remains their priority amid intensified military operations.

The Abu Sayyaf deaths followed Wednesday’s discovery of a severed head believed to belong to Patrick James Almodovar who was kidnapped July 16 in Indanan town in Sulu — an Abu Sayyaf stronghold.

Responding to reports of the beheading, President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated his directive to the military to “destroy” the group.

“My orders to the police and armed forces against enemies of the state: seek them out in their lairs and destroy them... The Abu Sayyaf, destroy them, period,” he told a press conference in Davao City, where he served 22 years as mayor.

Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf — armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles — has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.

It is among two militant groups in the south who have pledged allegiance to Daesh, prompting fears during the stalling of a peace process between the government and the country’s biggest Moro group that it could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.