Militants have killed five soldiers and wounded 23 others in a major ambush by members of a notorious Islamist kidnap-for-ransom group, military authorities said Saturday.
The soldiers were searching for hostages taken by the Abu Sayyaf group when the gunmen attacked them in Jolo on Friday, regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Gerry Besana told reporters.
Meanwhile, the Abu Sayyaf Group bandits have released a woman they kidnapped together with her husband almost two months ago in Zamboanga del Norte, police said Saturday.
In a statement, the Sulu Provincial Police Office said the victim, Helen Roda, was released around 2:30 p.m. Thursday in Barangay Anuling, Patikul, Sulu.
ASG sub-leaders Mujer Yadah and Injam Yadah released Roda following the alleged payment of a P1-million ransom, police said.
The ransom was reportedly delivered by two unidentified negotiators who, at the same time, accompanied Roda in her travel to Zamboanga City aboard a commercial ferry, police said.
Roda was released 29 days after the ASG bandits freed her husband, Rufo, a militiaman, on Oct. 18 following the alleged payment of P1.2 million in ransom.
They were seized on Aug. 31 by five ASG bandits following a firefight in Barangay Piacan, a coastal village in the town of Sirawai, Zamboanga del Norte.
Six people, including a militiaman, were killed while a child was wounded in the clash that broke out when the militiamen responded to the reported arrival of five gunmen clad in camouflage uniforms.
Roda’s release has brought down to six the number of hostages still in the hands of the ASG bandits. The hostages include a Dutch, a Vietnamese, and four Filipinos.
According to Besana, “The effort is part of our mission to rescue the remaining hostages.”
The Abu Sayyaf is a loose alliance of several hundred armed militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network.
Friday’s clash was one of the deadliest since an Abu Sayyaf faction joined other foreign and Filipino militants in seizing the southern Philippine city of Marawi last year, leading to a five-month battle that claimed more than 1,100 lives.
The Abu Sayyaf is now believed to hold “less than 10” hostages, Besana said.
The group is based in Mindanao but its members began in 2016 to kidnap sailors in the waters between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
The militants have also raided and taken hostages from resorts in the Mindanao and neighboring Malaysia.
Most of the hostages have been ransomed off for huge amounts of money and several were beheaded, including two Canadian tourists in 2016.
A Dutch birdwatcher abducted on a nearby island in 2012 is believed to be among those still in Abu Sayyaf’s hands.
The Dutchman’s Swiss colleague escaped in 2014 after grabbing a kidnapper’s machete and killing him.
The soldiers who survived Friday’s ambush did not see any hostages during the 90-minute clash near the town of Patikul, Besana said.
Besana added the soldiers from the Army’s 41st Infantry Battalion were on a combat patrol when they encountered the ASG bandits under Almuder Yadah and Sub-leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, identified as two notorious ASG leaders.
He said the fighting erupted in different stages, the first lasting for an hour. After a couple of minutes of a lull, gunfire rang anew, sparking a 30-minute battle.
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