MANILA - Five Abu Sayyaf members were killed in an encounter with troops of the Philippine Marines in Sulu early Sunday morning, the military said.
Brigadier General Cirilito Sobejana, Joint Task Force Sulu commander, said Marine Battalion Landing Team 3 members clashed with the bandits in Bud Bawis in Panamao town.
"Upon arrival in the area, our troops were fired upon by the enemy, resulting to an exchange of gun fire," he said. "Our troops were very careful because we believe there were kidnap victims."
Sobejana said the Marines received a report on Saturday night that an Abu Sayyaff group led by subleaders Sansibar Bensio and Hatib Munap Binda were hiding in the area.
The bandits withdrew following a brief firefight, said Sobejana, adding that they have also recovered an M14 rifle in the area of the clash.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr., commander of the Western Mindanao Command, said 7 soldiers were wounded in the encounter.
"They were all immediately evacuated to safety for immediate medical attention. As of this report, they are already being taken cared of by the best physicians and medical practitioners," he said.
Galvez said the military will not let up in the search for Bensio's group, operating in Panamao, Omar and Luuk, until they rescue all the hostages.