12 killed, 19 wounded in Sulu clash-A A +A
By Bong Garcia
Saturday, May 25, 2013
ZAMBOANGA CITY (Updated) — Twelve people, including seven Filipino Marines and five Abu Sayyaf bandits, were killed in a clash on Saturday as the military launched an offensive against al-Qaeda-linked gunmen.
Nine other Marines and about 10 Abu Sayyaf militants were wounded in the gunbattle that raged for an hour in a sparsely populated village on the fringes of the coastal town of Patikul in Sulu province, military spokesman Brigadier General Domingo Tutaan said.
The initial gun battle broke out around 6:40 a.m. Saturday in the village of Tugas, Patikul town.
Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) spokesman Colonel Rodrigo Gregorio said the identities of the slain and wounded soldiers were not immediately available.
The military’s Westmincom deployed four helicopter gunships to relentlessly pursue the Abu Sayyaf bandits who have been blamed for recent kidnappings and of trying to sabotage a road project in the southern Philippines.
Westmincom chief Lieutenant General Rey Ardo has deployed four aircrafts -- two rocket-firing MG-520 and two Huey helicopters -- that provided the troops air support and relentlessly pounced the bandits, believed to be led by Julaswan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf commander blamed for kidnappings for ransom, including of a Jordanian journalist and two European tourists who are still held by the militants.
The Force Recon Class-18 troops of the Philippine Marines stumbled on Sawadjaan's group while conducting a rescue operation to recover a wife of a Marine, Casilda Villarasa, who was abducted by the bandits last May 18.
Villarasa, 41, a medical technologist, was together with her daughter on the way to the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO) in the village of Asturias, Jolo, Sulu, when the bandits seized her.
Villarasa’s daughter, Valeria, 9, managed to run away and escape.
Sawadjaan's men have been accused of last week's kidnapping of Villarasa who works in IPHO. The gunmen also recently abducted two government employees working on a road project in Patikul. The two were freed last week but it was not clear whether ransom was paid, officials said.
Kausur Sawadjaan, Julaswan's son, was believed to have been killed in the firefight, said Sulu's military commander, Col. Jose Cenabre, adding that the Marines initially had difficulty returning fire because the dozens of militants took cover near a row of houses.
Gregorio, meanwhile, said the Armed Forces of the Philippines “will see to it that those soldiers who were involved in the encounter will be recognized accordingly and the family of those who have paid their ultimate sacrifice will be taken care of, while those who were wounded will be given the best medical assistance available.”
While Abu Sayyaf abductions still occur, they are far fewer today than the massive kidnappings that terrorized Sulu and outlying provinces in the early 2000s, when the group had many commanders and strong ties with terrorist organizations, including Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah.
U.S.-backed military offensives have crippled the Abu Sayyaf in recent years, but it remains a national security threat. Washington has listed the group as a terrorist organization. (Bong Garcia/AP/Sunnex)