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Sulu clash: 7 troopers, 5 Abu dead

AT least 12 people were killed while nine others were wounded after government troops battled with Abu Sayyaf gunmen in a hilly village of Patikul, Sulu, the military said on Saturday. Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan said the battle happened around 6:40 a.m. Saturday in hilly Barangay Tugas, about seven kilometers from the Patikul town center in the northern coast of Sulu. “The soldiers were on tracking operations against those involved in recent kidnapping incidents in Sulu, when the firefight in Barangay Tugas occurred. It was a long firefight,” Tutaan said at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. Tutaan said Saturday afternoon at least seven government troops with nine wounded. “On the side of the Abu Sayyaf, five were reported killed and some were wounded based on reports I got. The fighting has stopped and we are on pursuit operations,” he added. In Zamboanga City, Col. Rodrigo Gregorio, spokesman of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said troops from the Force Recon Class-18 stumbled on the Abu Sayyaf gunmen while they were on a mission to rescue medical technologist Casilda Villarasa. Villarasa, 41, was kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf last May 8 while she was on her way to her workplace at the Integrated Provincial Health Office in Sulu’s capital of Jolo, which is next to Patikul town. Westmincom chief Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo sent four helicopter gunships to assist in the ongoing pursuit operations, Gregorio said. The government troops sustained the 16 casualties in sporadic fighting with the Abu Sayyaf, which also  sustained fatalities and injuries. Gregorio withheld the identities of the slain and wounded soldiers pending notification of their families. Col. Jose Cenabre, Marine commander in Sulu, said the military was only able to recover the bodies of four slain Abu Sayyaf gunmen, because the others were dragged away by their comrades. The military claimed among the slain Abu Sayyaf were a mid-level commander identified as “Apong Idol” and Kausar Sawadjaan, purportedly a son of the group’s leader Julaswan Sawadjaan, who s believed to have led the group that kidnapped Villarasa earlier this month. Aside from the Villarasa kidnapping, Julaswan Sawadjaan is also believed to be among those involved in the kidnapping of Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani in June 2012 and two European, who are still detained by the Abu Sayyaf. Last March, the Abu Sayyaf released Australian Warren Richard Rodwell who was detained for 15 months after his family raised P4 million in ransom. Security officials feared that the killing of Kausar Sawadjaan may prompt the Abu Sayyaf to stage reprisal attacks on nearby Jolo, so the Philippine National Police in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which covers Sulu, on heightened alert. ARMM regional police director Noel Delos Reyes ordered Sulu provincial police chief Senior Supt. Abraham Orbita to put all police forces to be alert against bombings or kidnappings that may be staged by the Abu Sayyaf. With AP
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