Marines scour Sulu mountains for Abu Sayyaf men
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Marine soldiers, backed by air, sea and ground support, have been combing the slopes of Mounts Tunggol and Gasam in Sulu following Thursday morning’s clash with the Abu Sayyaf that left seven Marine soldiers, including a junior officer, and 21 other soldiers injured, the provincial military commander said.
Brig. General Romeo Tanalgo told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a text message that some 70 Abu Sayyaf gunmen, led by Radulan Sahiron alias Putol and Isnilon Hapilon, have been on the run after the military launched a major offensive following the four-hour clash in Panglahayan village in Patikul town.
Soldiers had recovered a rocket-propelled grenade launcher left behind by the fleeing Abu Sayyaf gunmen but there were no reports of enemy casualty as of yet, he said.
“As the ASG scampered from the pursuing Marines, forces from the AFP supported by air and naval assets have joined the hot pursuit,” Tanalgo said.
Marine soldiers conducting operation since Wednesday evening in Patikul stumbled upon an Abu Sayyaf encampment around 4:30 a.m. Thursday, according to Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).
“Based on the report they sent to us, the troops were conducting maneuver operation since Wednesday night and at early dawn they hit a big camp of the Abu Sayyaf. It was when the fight started,” Cabangbang said.
He said that initially, two soldiers were reported dead and that five others were missing.
“Later in the day the five missing were recovered dead, which explains why the figure rose,” Cabangbang said.
“It was a major encounter,” Tanalgo said.
Cabangbang said the wounded soldiers were extricated from the encounter site.
He said Westmincom deployed four helicopters, two MG520s and two Hueys, and a Navy boat to help bring the wounded soldiers to hospitals.
Cabangbang said they encountered bad weather, which caused some delays in the evacuation of military injuries.
The Marines had been battling the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and other areas of Mindanao for years now.
In 2007, the Marines suffered its 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 is now being linked to the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiya.
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