PH pursues militants as death toll hits 14

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MANILA, Philippines — The confirmed death toll from fighting between Philippine troops and Al-Qaeda linked extremists rose to 14 on Sunday as troops pursued the militants, a military spokesman said.

Soldiers were pressing on with their hunt for the Abu Sayyaf group a day after a bloody clash on the remote southern island of Jolo, said Brigadier General Domingo Tutaan.

Two more Abu Sayyaf fighters were found dead, adding to the five militants and seven marines reported killed in the first day of fighting, he told AFP.

“After the firefight, a scouring operation was conducted and a pursuit operation was launched,” he said, adding that was how they found the new fatalities.

The marines were hunting down Abu Sayyaf members believed responsible for a spate of abductions of local residents including a marine’s wife when the clash broke out, Tutaan said.

Although there were no new clashes on Sunday, Tutaan said helicopter gunships were now on standby, ready to reinforce the troops if they should encounter the Abu Sayyaf again.

The Abu Sayyaf, funded using seed money from Al-Qaeda in the 1990s, is blamed for the country’s worst terror attacks, including the firebombing of a ferry in Manila Bay and kidnappings of foreign tourists.

The group is on the US government’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

About 600 US troops have been rotating through the southern Philippines for a decade to help train local troops in hunting the Abu Sayyaf, who enjoy local support at their bases in some of the poorest areas of the Philippines.

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