Sun, Feb 20, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Abu Sayyaf, army clash on strife-torn Philippine island

AFP , MANILA

Three soldiers were killed and one wounded in a clash yesterday with suspected members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group in the strife-torn Philippine island of Jolo, a military task force commander said.

The clash comes just days after about 2,000 soldiers overran the headquarters of Muslim rebel leader Habier Malik in Panamao town in Jolo following some 10 days of fighting which claimed the lives of 25 soldiers and some 70 to 100 of Malik's men.

Gang

Troops were securing a road in Indanan town in the southern island when they encountered the members of the Abu Sayyaf, a feared Muslim kidnapping and bombing gang, said Brigadier General Agustin Dema-ala. The Abu Sayyaf suffered an undetermined number of casualties, he said.

Dema-ala said the clash came as the military was re-positioning some of its forces from Panamao town, Malik's stronghold, to other parts of Jolo island where the Abu Sayyaf are based.

Malik, a respected religious leader and loyal follower of jailed Muslim rebel and politician Nur Misuari, mounted attacks on military outposts in Jolo on Feb. 6.

He was backed by members of Misuari's old guerrilla group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) but Abu Sayyaf fighters also took part in some of the fighting, the military has said.

Dema-ala said Malik did not want to be linked to the Abu Sayyaf who are known mainly for kidnapping for ransom and bomb attacks, but some of Malik's men had "dual personalities," easily switching their affiliation with the Abu Sayyaf, Dema-ala said.

Bombings

An Abu Sayyaf spokesman said his group was responsible for a series of bombing attacks in Manila and the southern cities of General Santos and Davao on Feb. 14 that claimed about 10 lives and left about 100 injured in retaliation for the military attack on Malik's MNLF forces.

Dema-ala said two battalions of Marines had been left in Panamao to deal with Malik's forces but that the other troops were being sent to go after the Abu Sayyaf, who are largely based in Indanan.

"Our offensive against them continues. We really plan to finish them off," the general said.

`Wipe out'

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo ordered the military to "move forward to wipe out the remnants of the Abu Sayyaf," after the Feb. 14 bombings.

Washington and Manila have linked the Abu Sayyaf to the al-Qaeda terror network of Osama bin Laden.

The bombing attacks came nearly a year after the Abu Sayyaf bombed a ferry in Manila Bay, killing more than 100 people in the worst known terrorist attack in the Philippines.

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