ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 18, 2007) – A helicopter transporting US soldiers came under fire while flying over the southern Philippine island of Basilan, where local security forces are battling Abu Sayyaf militants, officials said on Tuesday.
"The chopper was hit by hostile fire. We still don't know if there are casualties," Mayor Joel Maturan, of Unkaya Pukan town, told the Mindanao Examiner.
Fighting was raging on Tuesday in the town where suspected militants attacked government soldiers, he said. "The fighting is intense," he said without elaborating further.
Major Eugene Batara, a regional army spokesman, said the attack on the chopper occurred on Monday and that one passenger was injured after debris hit him.
"A civilian helicopter conducting a routine support and logistics flight with the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines was hit by small-arms fire over Basilan island."
"The helicopter landed at the airfield in Zamboanga without difficulty. One individual aboard suffered minor injuries from flying debris. All personnel are safe and accounted for," he said.
Maturan said the fighting erupted Tuesday after Abu Sayyaf gunmen, backed by rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), attacked government soldiers in Ungkaya Pukan.
"We still don't know if there are casualties from both sides," he said. Troops were pursuing the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan island, blamed for killing more than two dozen soldiers in sporadic clashes the past months.
A small contingent of US troops is deployed in Basilan to help Filipino troops defeat terrorism. The Abu Sayyaf is included in the US list of international terrorist groups and Washington offered as much as five million dollars for the capture of the group's known leaders. (Mindanao Examiner)