MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - Seven suspected members of terrorist group Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), including 2 women, died while a Marine soldier was wounded following a raid at an island in Siasi town in Sulu at dawn Sunday, a military commander reported.
Brig. Gen. Rustico Guerrero, commander of the military's Joint Task Force Comet, said the slain terrorists have close links with Zulkipli Bin Hir, alias Marwan, a ranking leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) who is reportedly hiding in the Philippines since 2003.
Guerrero said the encountered terrorists are believed to be part of the cell of Marwan, a Malaysian who allegedly heads the Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia terror group and is a member of the JI's central command. He is reportedly training ASG elements on bomb-making in Mindanao.
However, Guerrero said they have no immediate information on whether there were JI elements with the Abu Sayyaf men during the raid that was conducted by elements of the Marine Battalion Landing Team 6 at Siasi island, particularly at the village of Pookan, in Laminusa Island, at around 3:47 a.m.
He said the initial fighting with the terrorists, believed to be under Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Benhur, alias Boy Tondo, lasted for about 10 minutes.
At around 5 a.m., Guerrero said another fighting erupted between the 2 sides at the same area.
Guerrero said the wounded soldier was evacuated at their command ship, Patrol Ship 31, where trauma doctors were aboard.
He said the encounter also led to the seizure of 15 firearms – 5 garand rifles, 1 M14 rifle, 2 Browning Automatic Rifles, 4 M16 rifles, 1 FN rifle, 1 M79 rifle and 1 M203 tube – and 4 rifle grenades.
Guerrero said they have yet to identify of the slain terrorists. He could not immediately say if the dead included Benhur, adding, “We still have no positive identification (of the slain Abu Sayyaf elements).”
Guerrero said the enemy was well-positioned at the time of the raid.
“They were in sandbags, they were really ready. That explains why we recovered 15 firearms. It’s fortunate that we only suffered one wounded. The sea was our approach,” he added.
Troops are now conducting a clearing operation in the presence of some village officials for the official turn-over of dead bodies in the area.
Last Febuary 21, marine soldiers assaulted a lair of the Abu Sayyaf in Maimbung town, resulting in the killing of Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad and 5 of his men. A Marine soldier died and three others were injured.
Top military officials said the killing of Parad was a big blow to the ASG, noting that he was responsible for a number of high-profile kidnappings, including 2 foreigneers and a Filipino worker of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) last year. With a report from Jewel Reyes, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga