Abu Sayyaf kills 12 soldiers

Duterte has given his military a formidable challenge in the south. Source: YouTube

Twelve Philippine soldiers, including their young officer, were killed in a firefight with Abu Sayyaf militants on the remote southern island of Jolo on the fifth day of a major offensive.

Army spokesman Major Filemon Tan said five soldiers were also wounded in the forests near Patikul as the military attacked Abu Sayyaf strongholds.

Tan was quoted by Inquirer.net saying that the soldiers were killed while fighting about 70 Abu Sayyaf fighters near the city of Barangay Maligaya.

“The fighting was really intense, we lost 12 men,” the major said. “You can really expect heavy casualties from both sides due to the volume of fire. We don’t know how many from the enemy died but there could be more than 30 rebels.”

A lieutenant leading the troops was reportedly killed in an ambush.

More than 20 Abu Sayyaf fighters had allegedly died in five days of offensives in Patikul, an Abu Sayyaf stronghold. On Thursday Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered his troops to “destroy” the extremist group. Its name means “bearer of the sword”.

On Sunday eight Islamists with alleged links to the so-called Islamic State were freed from jail by at least 20 militants from the Maute group at the Lanao del Sur jail in the city of Marawi.

The Maute group is blamed for several bombings and kidnappings in the predominantly Muslim southern Mindanao region.

The Abu Sayyaf, which regularly kidnaps and beheads captives, has funded its network with ransom payments.

Two Canadians and a Filipino teenager were beheaded by the group this year. Last week, two Indonesian captives escaped from captivity but there were rumours the group freed them after their families paid ransoms.

Eight Indonesians, eight Filipinos, five Malaysians, a bird watcher from the Netherlands and a resort manager from Norway are being held hostage by Abu Sayyaf.