5 soldiers, 3 Abu Sayyaf killed, Patikul town evacuated
MANILA (5th UPDATE)—Government troops on Saturday clashed with Abu Sayyaf rebels in Patikul, Sulu, as it launched a manhunt for one bandit leader tagged in the twin blasts that killed 22 and hurt at least 100 others in Jolo town last week.
Five soldiers and three from the enemy side, including an Abu Sayyaf leader called Black Moro, were killed in the firefight that went on for nearly two hours, said Lt. Col. Gerald Monfort, spokesperson of Joint Task Force Sulu.
Black Moro is a suspected Indonesian terrorist alleged to have volunteered carrying out the Jolo Cathedral attack, the military said.
Eighteen other soldiers were wounded while 15 from the Abu Sayyaf were hurt, including leader Indang Susukan, who reportedly lost an arm.
Col. Gerry Besana, spokesperson of Western Mindanao Command, said pursuit operations against the bandits are ongoing.
The "intense firefight" between the 5th Scout Ranger Battalion and at least 100 Abu Sayyaf members under a certain Hajan Sawadjaan erupted in Barangay Kabbon Takas shortly before noon, military officials told reporters.
Sawadjaan is an Abu Sayyaf leader believed to be involved in the bombings at the Jolo Cathedral during a mass on January 27. He was known to have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State.
Residents of Patikul were evacuated amid the firefight. Authorities stepped up checkpoints in other parts of Sulu, with troops on the lookout for the possible entry of supplies, particularly food, for the bandit group.
The encounter happened amid investigation surrounding the possible involvement of Indonesian suicide bombers aided by the Abu Sayyaf group in twin blasts.
The blasts happened while the entire Mindanao was under martial law.
Authorities have yet to apprehend suspects.
Military airstrikes on Wednesday pounded Abu Sayyaf enclaves in Sulu after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered an "all-out war" against the Islamic State-inspired rebels.
— Reports from Maan Macapagal and Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News