ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – The military has sent more ground troops to Sulu in an intensified operation to rescue three Westerners and a Filipina seized by Abu Sayyaf bandits from a Samal Island resort in September.
A security official said soldiers have reported the discovery of three dead militants in Patikul town.
The military has stepped up its operations in Sulu after Armed Forces chief Gen. Hernando Iriberri ordered his commanders to keep the Abu Sayyaf on the run – to pressure the militants into releasing their hostages.
On Tuesday, a second video of the hostages – Canadians John Ridsdel, 68, and Robert Hall, 50, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and Hall’s Filipina girlfriend Marites Flor – was released by the militants.
In the video, the Abu Sayyaf demanded P1 billion for the release of each of the foreign hostages.
Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu (JTGS), said his troops ran into a group of Abu Sayyaf militants on Monday in Barangay Liang, Patikul town.
Arrojado said three Abu Sayyaf militants initially reported as wounded died Tuesday.
The slain Abu Sayyaf members were identified as Timhar Jauhari, Munar Abdulhair and Nasser Hadjail. Reported wounded was a certain Jani Kamlun.
At least three soldiers were wounded in the encounter with the militants at 1:45 p.m. last Monday.
Reports said the bandits unleashed a barrage of M203 rifle grenade attacks on the soldiers.
Meanwhile, government forces have recovered a black flag of international terrorist group ISIS and other items in an area in Sulu where Abu Sayyaf bandits were believed to have stayed.
Military officials, however, said they doubt if the bandits really have direct links to the Syria-based extremist group.
Troops from the Marine Battalion Landing Team 10 recovered the items in Sitio Lungon-Lungon, Barangay Kuppong in Indanan town, Arrojado said.
Arrojado did not give details on the operation.
The statement on the discovery of the ISIS flags and paraphernalia came a day after the release of the second video of the hostages.
It was not clear if the area where the belongings were found had served as an encampment of local terrorists.
Also recovered were one long M16 magazine with one 5.56 ammunition, 37 pieces of 7.62 mm ammunition, a handheld radio with two spare batteries and headset, three mobile phones with SIM pack, two extra SIM packs, an upper hand guard M653, two micro SD adapter with a micro SD and two maps.
Also found were an empty box with government arsenal markings, a Moro National Liberation Front identification card with the name Aiwen Juddan, two mini solar panels, four military and two civilian backpacks and various military and police uniforms.
“They just want to be associated with the ISIS but the possession of the flag does not mean they are now connected with the group,” Armed Forces public affairs chief Col. Noel Detoyato said.
Meanwhile, the military assured delegates of the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit that they do not need to worry about their security despite the recent kidnapping of foreigners by the Abu Sayyaf.
“There is no reason to worry because the venues are controlled areas and are very secured. Intelligence gathering has been intensified. All security aspects are covered,” Detoyato said.
“There is no breakdown of law and order. Operations are being conducted to ensure the safety of the hostages,” he added.
Source: Nov 6 Philstar