Al-Qaeda-linked militants killed 11 people in the southern Philippines yesterday, hours after two hostages they were holding walked free, the government said.
Members of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group and other gunmen raided the town of Maluso on Basilan island before dawn, killing a government militiaman and 10 civilians, regional health chief Kadil Jojo Sinolinding said.
“Most of the victims were still asleep when they were strafed and then their houses were torched,” he said after treating the victims.
Seventeen people were also wounded in the attack with nine in critical condition, four of whom were children, Sinolinding said.
Among the victims was a one-year-old girl whose burned body was later found in the ruins, Basilan police chief Senior Superintendent Antonio Mendoza said.
Mendoza also said that members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s main separatist group, took part in the clash despite a ceasefire they signed with the government to seek a peace accord.
“Some members of the MILF have participated,” he told reporters.
Spokesmen for the MILF could not be contacted for comment.
Soldiers were sent to secure the area, but the attackers fled after burning four houses including the village chairman’s, military spokeswoman Lieutenant Steffani Cacho said.
The military is searching for the attackers, but there have been no reports of further clashes.
The attack, led by Abu Sayyaf commander Puruji Indama, was motivated by a personal grudge with the village chairman, Mendoza said.
However, police said they were also looking into whether the attack might be linked to the recovery of two factory workers kidnapped by the same Abu Sayyaf group in Maluso more than three months ago.
“It is possible that they are connected because the same perpetrator is behind the kidnapping and the attack on the town,” regional police head Chief Superintendent Bienvenido Latag said.
Indama kidnapped factory workers Michael Tan, Oscar Lu and Mark Singson on Nov. 10. Singson’s severed head was recovered in early December, but Tan and Lu were picked up by police late on Friday.
It was unclear if a ransom had been paid. The kidnappers are known to have demanded money from the families of the surviving victims, who police said are both of Chinese descent.
The two were taken to a hospital in Basilan for an examination and will later be debriefed, Mendoza said.
“They are having trouble walking,” he said.