9 dead as Philippine troops clash with kidnappers

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine security forces clashed with al-Qaeda-linked gunmen believed to be holding foreign hostages on Wednesday, December 30, leaving one soldier and 8 of the gunmen dead, the military said.

The clash occurred near Patikul town on the remote southern island of Jolo, where gunmen from the Islamic militant group Abu Sayyaf are believed to be holding two Canadian hostages along with a Norwegian and a Filipina.

Regional mlitary spokesman Major Filemon Tan said that one soldier was killed and 4 wounded, but did not respond to queries about the status of the hostages thought to be held by the gunmen.

Eight of the around 100 attackers were also killed, Tan told reporters, adding that the militants belonged to an Abu Sayyaf faction led by Hajan Sawadjaan.

Abu Sayyaf last month released a video of two Canadian tourists, a Norwegian resort operator and a Filipina abducted in another area in Mindanao in September, and demanded P1 billion pesos ($21 million) in ransom.

A Dutch bird watcher abducted in Mindanao in 2012 is also believed by the military to be held by the same group on Jolo.

Founded in the early 1990s with seed money from late Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, Abu Sayyaf gained international notoriety for kidnapping dozens of foreign tourists for ransom in the early 2000s.

The group has also been blamed for the country's worst terrorist attacks, including the bombing of a ferry off Manila Bay in 2004 that killed more than 100 people.

It is believed to have just a few hundred gunmen, but thrives in lawless sections of Mindanao where Muslim rebels have for decades fought for independence or autonomy.

The militant group beheaded a Malaysian hostage last month, weeks after a 74-year-old South Korean kidnapped in January was found dead, apparently from illness, on Jolo. – Rappler.com