Fighting broke out between government troops and members of the Abu Sayyaf-affiliated Ajang-Ajang in Patikul, Sulu Thursday morning, sending more than 300 families fleeing from their homes.
Col. Gerry Besana, spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command, said the fighting broke out after troops from the Joint Task Force Sulu encountered 20 members of the Ajang-Ajang, which has been blamed for the bomb attack on a Catholic church in Jolo that killed 21 people and wounded scores of others on Sunday.
While the soldiers moved quietly closer to the bandits’ position, gunfire broke out and a battle ensued.
The ground troops were supported by artillery and airstrikes before the terrorists withdrew.
Besana said the Scout Rangers were continuing the pursuit of the Ajang-Ajang bandits, who were hiding to avoid direct confrontation with the pursuing government forces.
Two days after the bomb attack in Jolo, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the military to pulverize the Abu Sayyaf.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Benjamin Madrigal has reinforced troops in Sulu in a bid to crush the ASG.
The entire Sulu has been sealed off to deny the terrorists food and armaments.
A GMA News report said families who fled the fighting took shelter in neighboring towns of Jolo and Indanan.
Many evacuees left town in vehicles, but some reportedly set out on foot to reach locations up to seven hours away just to get away from the fighting, GMA News reported.
Police in Sulu said four people who were seen in CCTV footage outside the church on the day of the bombing were deemed to be innocent after they surrendered to clear their names.
“They were removed as persons of interest in connection with the bombing incident in Jolo, Sulu. Yesterday, they freely went to the police station to give their sworn statement that they were not involved in the incident,” Senior Supt. Bernard Banac, PNP spokesman, said Thursday.
He said the four were immediately released upon verification of their statements.
Also on Thursday, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Chinese embassy in Manila is donating about P38.9 million to the victims of Sunday’s bomb attack in Jolo, Sulu.
In a tweet on his official account, Locsin thanked Ambassador Zhao Jianhua for the assistance, noting that “a friend in our grief is a friend indeed.”
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier extended his condolences to the Philippine government in a letter sent to Locsin and reaffirmed Beijing’s resolve against all forms of terrorism.
On Wednesday, Hungary also extended 10 million forints (about P1.89 million) to those affected by the blasts. With PNA