Sulu clashes death toll rises to 26

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

MANILA -- The death toll in Tuesday’s clashes between Philippine troops and Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu province has risen to 26, officials said Thursday.

Captain Maria Rowena Muyuela, information officer of Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said the latest reports showed that 25 Abu Sayyaf militants were killed and 24 were wounded. A Philippine marine died and 19 were wounded.

Muyuela said no fresh fighting was reported Thursday, but the death toll rose from 15 to 26 as some of the wounded militants died.

Twenty of the dead Abu Sayyaf fighters were identified based on information from local residents.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the fighting, which began late Tuesday, continued until early Wednesday morning with the militants attempting to regain control of an Abu Sayyaf training and storage camp in Patikul town that was captured by government troops.

Government soldiers captured Monday the well-fortified militant camp, concealed by shrubs and trees in the mountains.

Marine commander Brig. Gen. Martin Pinto said about 50 huts were used by the militants to train recruits for meetings and as a staging area for attacks and kidnappings.

At least three Abu Sayyaf factions combined to stage Tuesday's attack, but marines backed by helicopter gunships and artillery fire beat back the militants, who withdrew in different directions, said marine spokesman Captain Ryan Lacuesta.

Abu Sayyaf, which is on a US list of terrorist organizations, has had links with foreign terrorist networks, including al-Qaida. It is notorious for bombings, extortion, kidnappings and beheadings, and has targeted foreign missionaries and tourists in the south.

An estimated 300 militants, who are split into several factions, still hold several hostages in their jungle bases in Sulu province, including two European bird watchers who were abducted two years ago.

A Chinese tourist and a Filipino hotel worker who were recently kidnapped by the militants from a resort in Malaysia were brought to Sulu, Philippine security officials said.

Huge ransom payments have allowed the militants to survive and finance attacks despite on-and-off US-backed Philippine military offensives. (AP)

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