15 dead as PH troops, Abu Sayyaf clash in Sulu

SOUTHERN SULU PROVINCE— Heavy clashes broken out between Philippine troops and Muslim militants trying to regain control of a captured camp in southern Sulu province, leaving 14 Abu Sayyaf rebels and one marine dead, officials said Wednesday.

Lieutenant ColonelRamon Zagala, military spokesman, said fighting that began late Tuesday continued until early morning Wednesday, with the militants attempting to regain control of an Abu Sayyaf training and storage camp and in Patikul township that was captured by government troops.

Captain Ryan Lacuesta, Marine spokesman, citing intelligence reports, said the clashes left 14 rebels dead, while one marine was killed and 19 were wounded.

“They tried to overrun our position, thinking that there were no more troops stationed at the camp,” Lacuesta said. “They thought they could takeover the camp.”

A couple of MG520 attack helicopters from the Philippine Air Force backed the 200-strong Marine troops against the 100-member group from Abu Sayyaf that commanders Yasser Igasan, Idan Susukan, Ninok Sappari, and Radullan Sahiron led.

Firepower rang near a 1-hectare Abu Sayyaf camp in Sitio Kan Jimao, Barangay (village) Buhanginan, which troops seized after an assault on Monday, Lacuesta said.

He added that most of the injuries suffered from the government side were from M203 grenade launchers that the bandits used.

Zagala said troops were securing the rebel camp they captured Monday. Militants from the group of Sahiron were expected to launch more attacks and the military would continue to use mortars, howitzers and attack helicopters to protect it troops there, he said.

The Abu Sayyaf had links to international militant networks, including al-Qaeda, but a US-backed Philippine military crackdown has weakened it considerably in recent years. The group, which is on the US list of terror groups, has about 300 fighters and is now much more focused on ransom kidnappings than global jihad.

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