MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Fifteen were killed in clashes between government forces and Abu Sayyaf members seeking to regain their captured camp in Patikul, Sulu, on Tuesday, April 29, the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported.
Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson, said in an interview with ANC that the group involved in the ongoing firefight with government forces is believed to be led by senior Abu Sayyaf leader Radullan Sahiron.
“We have a heavy firefight that ensued between the Marines and the Abu Sayyaf Group at Sitio Kan Jimao...in Patikul, Sulu, Zagala said.
He initially said that one Marine and about 10 Abu Sayyaf were killed. In later media reports, he said a total of 14 members of the terrorist group were killed.
Zagala said the incident occured at 4 pm Tuesday, and was ongoing as of press time. “There was still a heavy firefight at about 2 am this morning and we expect that there will still be more….They are trying to regain control of their former stronghold,” the AFP spokesperson said.
He said the AFP had anticipated the attack after the 2nd Marine Brigade captured the camp on Monday, April 28, since the camp is known to be a “haven for the Abu Sayyaf.”
“We believe that Kan Jimao serves as their storage area and their training and resting grounds, so maybe this is the reason why they really want to [regain it],” Zagala said.
He added: “We were expecting that they would try to retake it and they did, a day after….However, we have already occupied the camp and we are currently securing it.”
Zagala said there are enough government forces in the area to reinforce troops in Kan Jimao.
Captain Ryan Lacuesta, a spokesman for the marine unit engaged in the battle, said, "We have employed air support using MG-520 helicopters and (artillery) shelling, which resulted in large casualties on their side."
Sahiron involved in attack
Zagala said that based on reports, the group involved in the attack includes Sahiron, who is responsible for the abduction of journalist Ces Drilon and her crew in 2008, and Australian Warren Rodwell who was abducted in 2011 but released only in 2013.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has offered a $1-million reward for information leading to the arrest of Sahiron, who has been on its Most Wanted list of terrorists since 2012. He is the second Filipino to be in the list after another Abu Sayyaf leader, Isnilon Hapilon.
Sahiron, also known as “Commander Putol,” is in the Al Qaida Sanctions List of the Al Qaida Sanctions Committee of the United Nations Security Council, which includes individuals, groups and entities associated with the terrorist network.
Government troops captured the major Abu Sayyaf camp early morning Monday.
Brigadier General Martin Pinto, commander of the 2nd Marine Brigade, said earlier that because of the proximity of the camp to feeder road and trails "it was also being utilized as a staging and rendezvous area before and after their conduct of atrocities like kidnapping."
He said the camp had around 50 makeshift huts that can accommodate 100 bandits.
“It has a good water source and the whole area is concealed under a thickly vegetated forest. The camp is heavily fortified with bunkers. Individual foxholes are strategically emplaced and scattered in different defensive positions," Pinto said.
The developments come a week after Philippine forces captured ASG member Nabil Talahi Idjiran, who took part in the abduction of tourists and locals in a resort in Sipadan, Malaysia on 2001.
In 2001, the group abducted local and foreign tourists in Dos Palmas resort in Palawan, including US missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham.
The Abu Sayyaf is believed to be behind the kidnapping of a Chinese tourist and a Filipino resort worker from a resort on Malaysia's Borneo island on April 2. – with reports from Karlos Manlupig/ Rappler.com