World Bulletin/News Desk
At least six soldiers were shot dead Sunday during a raid by the Abu Sayyaf group on government forces securing a Saudi-assisted road project in the Philippines Muslim south.
The attack came the day after the Armed Forces of the Philippines launched morning air strikes against the group in the nearby island of Sulu, which triggered intense clashes that continued throughout the afternoon and left an undetermined number of casualties.
A text statement from the Western Mindanao Command headquarters said that the Abu Sayyaf engaged soldiers from the Army's 64th Infantry Battalion who had been sent to secure a development project in the southern island province of Basilan at 7:30 local time.
It said the troops were conducting a security patrol when they clashed with around 20 heavily armed members of the group. Six soldiers, including a 2nd lieutenant, were killed during the ensuing 45-minute gun battle.
Colonel Rolando Bautsta, the commander of the Army's 104th Brigade, said in the statement that reinforcements had been sent to hunt down the attackers.
"I will press for criminal charges against these bandits who are harassing the security forces who are protecting the workers."
In a further text statement, Colonel Alan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu, said marines and army troops conducting pursuit operations against the Abu Sayyaf had reported that group also suffered several casualties during the encounter.
Clashes between the army and the group continued to rage hours after Saturday's raid in the southern island province of Sulu, with helicopter gunships deployed to support troops engaged in a gun battle with around 60 Abu Sayyaf.
The attack on the group's lair in Bungkaong village in Sulu's Patikul town was the first engagement with the Abu Sayyaf since government forces launched a brief renewed offensive on the ragtag band of self-styled militants following their release of two Germans over two weeks ago.
Sulu occupies the middle group of islands in the Sulu Archipelago of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in the Philippines deep south, between Basilan -- the Abu Sayyaf's island stronghold -- and Tawi-Tawi.
Officials have said they believed that the faction attacked Saturday was among those responsible for the kidnapping of Stefan Victor and Henrike Dielen, who were seized on their yacht off the coast of the Philippines’ southern Palawan Island in April.
The group has claimed it was paid a P250 million ($5.5 million) ransom for the release - along with demanding Germany stop supporting the United States-led campaign against ISIL in Iraq and Syria - but the government has maintained no payment took place.
The group still holds foreign hostages -- thought to include two Europeans, two Malaysians, a Japanese -- and local residents.Last Mod: 02 Kasım 2014, 12:43