SULU - At least 23 Abu Sayyaf Group members were killed in Sulu in a series of attacks launched by government troops against the bandits following the beheading of German hostage Jurgen Kantner last February 26, a military official said Monday.
Major General Carlito Galvez, commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), said four separate clashes ensued between the military and the Abu Sayyaf in Patikul and Indanan in Sulu, and in parts of Basilan.
In the first three encounters, at least 14 bandits were reportedly killed, with six others wounded, according to initial reports from the ground.
Nine other bandits were killed in a firefight Sunday in Barangay lumipad in Talipao, also in Sulu.
According to Galvez, soldiers also captured four suspected members of Abu Sayyaf in two separate areas in Basilan last February 27.
He identified the bandits as Hamja Ummal, Asid Abdul Pagong, Kili Alvarez Sabtal, and Hamidid Pantasan.
Ummal and Pagong were nabbed in Al-Barka town, while the two others were arrested in Tipo-Tipo.
Galvez said the suspects, who are all teenagers, have been providing vital information to the Abu Sayyaf by serving as lookouts in places where military forces frequently pass.
The military also discovered an Abu Sayyaf lair in Al-Barka, with at least 30 makeshift bunkers and 16 foxholes.
For Galvez, the military has been gaining grounds on the intensified offensives against the bandits in Basilan and Sulu.
He also recognized the help of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who he said has been instrumental in some of their successful missions.
At least 31 hostages are still being held by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu. Of this number, 25 are foreigners, including the 6 Vietnamese crew members snatched at gunpoint off Tawi-Tawi last February 21.
The six other captives are Filipinos.