Villagers helped set up attack on troops?
MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - Abu Sayyaf terrorists beheaded 2 of the 7 government soldiers killed in the July 28 clash in Sulu, the military said on Friday.
Two of the soldiers suffered "severe hacking wounds," according to Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Omar Tonsay.
An initial report said bodies of 5 of the dead soldiers were mutilated by members of the terrorist group.
"Hindi 5, 2. I can confirm 2. I can confirm 2 hacking (victims) and I cannot give the full name right now kung sino sa kanila kasi hindi ko pa din alam," he said.
Tonsay described the act as "barbarism."
A military source said the head of one of the victims could not be found.
Tonsay said the beheading of the 2 soldiers will motivate the military to strengthen its efforts to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf.
He added that they have received no orders to send more troops to Sulu.
"Right now, wala. Sufficient naman at this point," he said. "Talagang iyung ganyang casualties, they are part of operations."
A military source, meanwhile, told ABS-CBN News that government troops may have been set up by villagers who support the Abu Sayyaf.
Some villagers in the area allegedly helped the terrorist group attack the Marines.
Government reinforcements failed to arrive on time because of the bad weather.
The bodies of the 7 soldiers have been flown to Zamboanga City and are to be given a heroes' welcome at the chapel of the Naval Forces Western Mindanao on Saturday.
It will be led by acting Navy chief Rear Adm. Orwen Cortez and Philippine Marines commandant Maj. Gen. Rustico Guerrero.
One of the fatalities is set to be interred by his family in his hometown in Basilan.
Six of the slain soldiers, meanwhile, may be flown to Manila depending on the availability of the Air Force’s C-130 transport plane.
Philippine Marines spokesman 1st Lt. Cherryl Tindog, meanwhile, said the slain Marine soldiers will be awarded posthumously with a promotion and will be recommended to receive the Gold Cross Medal.
The Marines spokesman also said that the soldiers wounded in the clash may be given unspecified awards.
"We are sad because these are our fellow troops. We are sad because we need to sacrifice to the point of death. The ultimate sacrifice... But that's our sworn duty. The Marine Corps, the more we lose comrades, the stronger we become. That's my general observation. We become more aggressive in addressing the deeper problem here. We know our enemies are bandits, terrorists. They scare our countrymen," said Tindog.
Gazmin sends condolences
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin has sent his condolences to the families of the 7 victims.
He also ordered Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Oban, Jr. and the Western Mindanao Command to continue pursuit operations against the Abu Sayyaf in the area.
"We salute the heroism... of the Philippine Marines who figured in this particular encounter," Gazmin said in a press statement.
A Muslim religious leader condemned the beheading of the soldiers and the mutilation of some of the victims.
"Hindi yun tama, iyang ginagawa nila, to destroy the image of Islam. Masakit sa akin na parang hayop ang ginagawa nila," said Abulwakil Tanjilil, deputy mufti for Region 9 and Palawan.
Navy in mourning
The Navy said it is mourning the loss of the 7 Marines who died at the hands of the Abu Sayyaf.
"It is indeed unfortunate that such incident transpired. However, as what had turned out, their sacrifices were not fruitless as the Marines in Sulu have proven that they are coming closer to attaining their goals against terrorism," Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said in a press statement Friday.
"At this point, let us hope and pray that such an incident will not happen again as your Sailors and Marines continue to strive even harder, together with the peace-and-development-loving Filipino people, to fight terrorism."
The Navy said the beheadings are "acts of brutality among the enemy," which they take "as a clear motivation to pursue more stern efforts against them."
Twenty-six other soldiers were injured in the encounter between government troops and the terrorist group that occurred near Tubig Magtuh, Barangay Panglayahan, Patikul in Sulu last July 28.
One of the injured soldiers remains in critical condition, the Navy said.
Marine Battalion Landing Teams 11, 10, and 5 encountered around 70 Abu Sayyaf members, according to the military.
A 4-hour firefight then ensued.
Military intelligence reports said 13 Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed while at least 6 others were wounded.
The gunbattle led to the capture of an Abu Sayyaf camp in Barangay Panglayahan, Patikul, the military added.
Abu Sayyaf bandits, in a July 2007 ambush in Basilan, killed 14 Marine soldiers while on a search and rescue operation for kidnapped priest Giancarlo Bossi. Ten of the soldiers were beheaded. - with a report from Queenie Casimiro, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga