ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (UPDATE) – Six people were killed while 22 others, including two militiamen, were wounded in an ambush by suspected Islamic militants in Basilan on Wednesday, the military said.
The victims, five of whom were employees by the Tumajubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Council (TARBDC), were part of a four-vehicle convoy and were on their way to a remote rubber plantation when they were attacked by at least 10 armed men, Army spokesman Major Harold Cabunoc said.
"The (militia) members who escorted the civilian workers managed to return fire, forcing the lawless elements to retreat in different directions with their own casualties," Cabunoc said in a statement.
Five of the fatalities were identified as Larry Mangaran Sr., Dante Binondo, Bonifacio Esteqiua, Albert Parang and Loreto Jeneney Jr.
The name of the militiaman killed in the attack has yet to be released.
Authorities said no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but local police and the farm cooperative's manager said they suspected the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
Taha Katu, the cooperative's manager, said prior to the attack, they received extortion letters purportedly from the Abu Sayyaf demanding payment of over $1,000 a month, in exchange for not being harmed.
Abu Sayyaf gunmen also killed five workers in a similar ambush near the area in 2011.
Basilan is a rugged, jungle-clad island in the southern Philippines. It is a known stronghold of the ASG and farm workers commonly travel with armed escorts.
The ASG is a small Islamic militant movement that has been blamed for most of the worst terror attacks in the Philippines as well as the kidnapping of foreigners. -- Reports from Queenie Casimiro, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga; Agence France-Presse