MANILA, Philippines - The clashes in Basilan on Friday that left more than 10 Abu Sayyaf bandits and two soldiers dead ended yesterday, but the military are still in pursuit of the gunmen.
The day-long fighting that saw the alleged involvement of several Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders – identified as Malangka Sapaat, Hamsa Sapanton, Abbas Salong, Rashid Iklaman and Parang Pais – left 29 soldiers wounded, including an Army colonel, a captain and a lieutenant.
Military sources said the MILF commanders and their men joined the fighting early morning Friday, reinforcing the group of Abu Sayyaf commanders Nurhasan Jamiri, Bashir Kasaran, Ibrahim Malat and Furuji Indama at their hideout in Sitio Kurilem, Barangay Silangkum, Tipo-Tipo town.
The firefight started when a team of Army Scout Rangers launched the offensive early Friday.
The clashes occurred just several meters away from an MILF camp in the area.
The military launched the offensive on intelligence reports that the Abu Sayyaf is holding Sabrina Ikbala Voon, niece of retired police director Sukarno Ikbala, who was kidnaped in Zamboanga City last February.
“We are now in the process of gathering the names of the Abu Sayyaf and MILF fatalities. There were many wounded on their side,” a military officer said.
He added the MILF commanders and their men were apparently dragged into the fighting because most of the Abu Sayyaf gunmen that were attacked by the Scout Rangers are their relatives.
As the fighting progressed, the Scout Rangers were overwhelmed by the increasing number of combatants from the MILF helping the Abu Sayyaf militants.
The troops were saved from being wiped out by the timely arrival of reinforcements.
“At first, the enemies were only around 30 but before noon, their number increased to more than 60 and further rose to more than 150 in the early afternoon,” an Army field unit commander said. – Roel Pareño