About seven suspected members of Philippine armed group Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) have been killed following an encounter at sea with the military in the country’s southern province of Sulu.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command said an “all-out offensive” was launched early on Tuesday against the group of fighters near Sulare Island, which lies west of the ASG’s stronghold on Jolo.
AFP Western Command head Lieutenant General Corleto Vinluan said in a statement that the military dispatched aircraft and ships against the group led by Radullan Sahiron and Mundi Sawadjaan – the main suspect in a twin bombing in Jolo in August that killed more than twelve soldiers.
“Exchanges of fires transpired, which lasted for 25 minutes, and resulted in the sinking of the boat utilised by more or less seven ASG members,” Vinluan said in a statement.
The group was reportedly planning to conduct kidnapping activities in mainland Mindanao when they were intercepted by the military.
Vinluan added that two members of the group were believed to be Sawadjaan’s brothers.
The military identified them as Madsmar Sawadjaan and Mannul Sawadjaan who, according to authorities, were supposed to replace the ASG leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, whose whereabouts remain unknown.
The military has yet to identify the other ASG fighters who were among the seven fighters killed.
Joint Task Force Sulu commander, Major General William Gonzales, was quoted as saying that search and retrieval operations were currently under way.
“We will use all our available air, naval and ground assets to neutralise these local terrorists,” Gonzales was quoted as saying.
Sulu is known as the stronghold of Abu Sayyaf, which has allied itself with ISIL (ISIS).
Abu Sayyaf has long been battling for the independence of the southern region of Mindanao, which they regard as their ancestral homeland dating back to the pre-Spanish colonial period.
The group is notorious for kidnappings, robberies and deadly bombings.