The Sulu provincial capitol building on the island of Jolo. Photo: Agtillah/Wikimedia Commons.
Philippine commandos yesterday killed 10 Islamist militants in a battle on the southern island of Jolo, a military spokesman said today.
Fifteen rebels were wounded and eight government troops were killed or injured in the clash late yesterday, Major Filemon Tan said.
About 300 members of the Abu Sayyaf militant group took part in the fighting.
“Our troops are pursuing the Abu Sayyaf who broke into small groups and withdrew to the interior of the island,” Tan said.
“This is part of our focussed military operation to free foreign hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf.”
A police report said the militants were planning to carry out bombings in Jolo town and attack police and military targets on New Year’s Eve.
It is believed they were led by Abu Sayyaf commander Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who has been blamed for several kidnappings in the region, including those of foreign tourists.
Tan said Abu Sayyaf are currently holding two Canadians, a Dutch citizen, a Norwegian and a Japanese citizen, Reuters reported.
President Benigno Aquino ordered troops to step up operations against Abu Sayyaf after militants beheaded a Malaysian hostage last month.
Tan said yesterday’s three-hour battle started when US-trained scout rangers attacked an Abu Sayyaf base. They later fired artillery at the militants as they fled.
There were no indications that any of the hostages were in the area, he said.
The government of the predominantly Catholic Philippines has been fighting Muslim separatists in the south for decades.
The biggest group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, signed a peace agreement in March after the government promised autonomy in the region.
The hardline Abu Sayyaf and another group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, are opposed to the deal and want to set up an Islamic state in the south of the archipelago nation.