Nurses attend to some of the wounded soldiers at a military hospital in Zamboanga City. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / July 28, 2011) – Philippine troops have recovered the bodies of five soldiers who went missing during Thursday’s clashes with Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern province of Sulu, officials said.
Officials said a total of 7 soldiers had died and 21 more were wounded in the fighting that erupted in Patikul town. “We have recovered the bodies of the five soldiers who were missing-in-action in Sulu,” Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, a regional military spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner newspaper.
Twelve of the wounded soldiers who were marines had been evacuated to a military hospital in Zamboanga City late Thursday. And the bodies of slain soldiers are expected to arrive on Friday from Sulu. There were reports that those killed had been decapitated by the Abu Sayyaf.
He said the fighting broke out at around 4:30 a.m. after security forces attacked a lair of the Abu Sayyaf which is believed to be holding a kidnapped Indian and a Malaysian national.
At least 70 gunmen were involved in the fighting.
It was not immediately known whether the offensive codenamed “Wild Finger” was part of an operation to rescue the foreigners.
There was no immediate reports of Abu Sayyaf casualties, but another security official said the target of the offensive were Radulan Sahiron and Isnilon Hapilon, leaders of the militant group who are believed to be harboring members of the Indonesian and Malaysian terrorists from Jemaah Islamiya and Kampulan Malaysia.
Filipino authorities have previously said that among those being protected by the Abu Sayyaf were Zulkifli bin Hir, Mauiya and Quayem.
Umar Patek, a suspect in the deadly 2002 Bali bombing, was previously hiding out in Sulu with the Abu Sayyaf before his capture in Pakistan in March. And also Dulmatin, who was tagged as among those behind the Bali bombing that killed 202 mostly tourists, was killed by security forces in Indonesia after fleeing Philippine military offensive in Sulu province.
The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed by Philippine authorities to the spate of terrorism in the volatile southern region, where security forces are battling Muslim and communist insurgencies the past four decades. (Mindanao Examiner)