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Military says Abu Sayyaf death toll in Basilan clashes now 13

Published April 11, 2016 6:58pm Updated April 11, 2016 9:16pm The number of Abu Sayyaf terrorists killed in continuous operations by the military in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, has climbed from five to 13, a Mindanao-based military official said Monday.

Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Maj. Filemon Tan said of the eight additional fatalities, four were among the 20 initially reported injured on Saturday while four others were killed in a clash on Sunday.

"Total ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) killed since Saturday [is] 13," Tan said in a text message to reporters, citing sources.

Tan said six terrorists were wounded in Sunday's clash including Abu Sayyaf leader Furuji Indama "who is critically wounded." All in all, 16 Abu Sayyaf members were injured in two days of fighting.

"As of today (Monday), pursuit operations are still ongoing," said Tan.

More forces deployed

In an interview on QRT, Tan said more troops were deployed in Basilan as "augmentation" forces against the Abu Sayyaf.

"Ito pong ating mga tropa ay augmentation po sa mga nangyayaring bakbakan sa Basilan [at] sila rin po ang nagdadala rin ng supply dun po sa ating mga tropa na nai-engage po sa operation na iyan," he said.

In a separate briefing, Tan said that the military was determined to get Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.

Hapilon is one of Abu Sayyaf's most senior leaders. The United States has placed a reward of five million dollars on his head for his role in the kidnapping of three Americans in 2001, two of whom later died.

Nine Abu Sayyaf fighters were also killed in Saturday's battle, including Moroccan national Mohammad Khattab, Tan told reporters, bringing the group's total losses to 13.

Tan said Khattab was an instructor in bomb-making who was trying to unify the various outlaw groups in the south and establish links with "international" groups.

"We pre-empted the possibility of bombing attacks. He can no longer teach his terroristic tradecraft," he said, but played down fears the Moroccan could have been linked to the Islamic State group.

Sunday offensive

Sunday's offensive was part of the military's pursuit operation following a fierce 10-hour firefight with the Abu Sayyaf the previous day that left 18 soldiers dead.

"Nagkaroon po tayo ng sagupaan sa mga naiwan pong mga tropa natin dun na kinabilangan ng iba-ibang units," said Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

No soldier was wounded in Sunday's clash, which lasted from 9 a.m. until around 2 or 3 p.m., Padilla said.

Sunday's encounter occurred in the same area of the previous day's clash involving the Army's 4th Special Forces Battalion and the 44th Infantry Battalion.

Aquino briefed

In Manila, the defense secretary and military chief of staff briefed President Benigno Aquino on the offensive and assured him that "in accordance with his instructions, pursuit operations are still being conducted and that the troops are fully equipped and adequately supported," a presidential spokesman said.

The Abu Sayyaf, a small group of militants notorious for kidnapping foreigners and demanding huge ransoms, was established in the early 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.

Based in the southern islands of Basilan and Jolo, it has been blamed for the country's worst terror attacks, including a 2004 Manila Bay ferry bombing that claimed 116 lives.

Its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group that controls swathes of Iraq and Syria.

The group has stepped up its activity in recent weeks, abducting Indonesian and Malaysian seamen travelling near the Philippines' maritime borders.  Xianne Arcangel/KBK with Agence France-Presse, GMA News



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