Philippine troops clash with militant group, 12 dead

GETTING CLOSER::The soldiers were tracking those responsible for kidnappings, including a woman who had been freed on a nearby island

AFP, ZAMBOANGA, Philippines

Sun, May 26, 2013 - Page 1

Twelve people were killed in the Philippines yesterday as troops clashed with a militant group blamed for the country’s deadliest terror attacks, the military said.

The fighting left seven Philippine marines dead and nine wounded on the remote southern island of Jolo, military spokesmen said.

Five members of Abu Sayyaf were also killed in the firefight, military spokesman Brigadier-General Domingo Tutaan told reporters in Manila.

“It was an early-morning firefight. Our forces were tracking those responsible for some recent kidnappings in the area, including the wife of a soldier,” Tutaan added.

The social worker wife of a marine had been freed unharmed by Abu Sayyaf on nearby Basilan Island two days after her abduction, he said.

The wounded marines were airlifted to a military hospital in the southern port of Zamboanga, Tutaan said, adding that none of their injuries was life-threatening.

Colonel Jose Cenabre, commander of a marine brigade in the area, said a marine reconnaissance team under him was involved in the firefight.

“The close-quarter combat resulted casualties on both sides,” he told reporters by telephone.

Founded using seed money from al-Qaeda in the 1990s, Abu Sayyaf is blamed for the worst terror attacks in the country, including the firebombing of a ferry in Manila Bay and kidnappings of foreign tourists.

The group is on the US government’s list of so-called foreign terrorist organizations.

About 600 US troops have been rotating through the southern Philippines for a decade to help train local troops in hunting Abu Sayyaf, which enjoys local support at its bases in some of the poorest areas of the Philippines.