ZAMBOANGA CITY—Seven Marine soldiers were killed and 21 others were wounded during a fierce firefight with the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu early Thursday, the military said.
990AM in an initial report said two Marines were killed.
A source, who did not want to be identified for lack of authority to speak on the matter, provided the names of the slain soldiers but asked to delay publication pending notification of their next of kin.
Brigadier General Romeo Tanalgo, commander of the Marines in Sulu, confirmed the clash that occurred in the municipality of Patikul.
He said the clash, which erupted 4:30 a.m. in Barangay (village) Panglayahan, involved soldiers from the Marine Battalion Landing Team 11 and Abu Sayyaf gunmen.
Tanalgo said the Marines suffered only six injuries but would not provide details on how the firefight actually started.
Soldiers have been combing Sulu for weeks now in search of kidnap victims, among them a Malaysian gecko trader and a visiting Indian national.
Marine Corps vice commander Brigadier General Eugenio Clemen also declined to give details of the encounter.
“Only the Sulu Island commander is authorized to give information about the operation,” he said.
The source said the firefight was fierce and among those missing was one officer.
Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command based here, confirmed the figure provided by the source.
Cabangbang said the Marine death toll rose after it was ascertained that five soldiers, reported as missing, were also killed.
“Among them a second lieutenant,” he said.
Cabangbang said based on reports reaching Westmincom, the Marines “were conducting maneuver operation since Wednesday night and at early dawn they hit a big camp of the Abu Sayyaf.”
He said the Abu Sayyaf gunmen were led by Radulan Sahiron alias Putol.
Cabangbang said four helicopters, two MG520s and two Hueys, and a Navy boat had been sent to Sulu to help extricate the 21 wounded soldiers.
“The bad weather in the area is hampering evacuation operations,” he said.
The Marines had been battling the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and other areas of Mindanao for years now.
In 2007, the Marines suffered their most serious debacle when gunmen identified with the Abu Sayyaf beheaded and mutilated 14 soldiers in Basilan.
The Abu Sayyaf, a band of self-styled Islamists, shot to notoriety with its high-profile kidnappings and bomb attacks.
Despite the deaths of most of its senior leaders, the group persisted and was now being linked to the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiya.