Sabah has been targeted by Abu Sayyaf. Source: Wikimedia
Three Philippine soldiers were killed and 17 injured during around two hours of fighting with about 150 Abu Sayyaf insurgents, according to the military.
The militants withdrew after the battle in hills near Patikul town in Sulu province, and were being pursued by government troops, said regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan.
No casualty figures are available for the extended offensive launched by President Rodrigo Duterte. Tan said aircraft and artillery supported the ground forces.
The militants were thought to be led by Radulan Sahiron, a one-armed militant wanted by the US and Philippines for his alleged role in kidnappings for ransom and terror attacks. Abu Sayyaf has survived numerous military offensives while becoming wealthy from kidnappings.
In Malaysian Borneo, the security forces said they killed three Abu Sayyaf gunmen and captured two others in a botched kidnapping attempt in Sabah near the southern Philippines on Thursday. Two other militants were reportedly missing after their boat was damaged by gunfire and sank.
Manila’s military said among the extremists killed was Abraham Hamid of Abu Sayyaf, who acted as a “spotter” in the kidnappings of two Canadians, a Norwegian and a woman from the Philippines in the south of the archipelago last year.
“The death of Hamid is a big blow as it neutralised one of the notorious bandits and will degrade their capability for spotting and kidnapping victims in the future,” Tan said.
The Canadians were beheaded and the other two hostages were freed after ransoms were allegedly paid.
The three killed in Sabah were said to be part of a six- to eight-man squad believed to be behind several kidnapping raids in recent months. They were caught during a late night gun fight with the police that left one officer injured.
During the standoff, a hostage was freed, while three gunmen were detained.
Malaysia has launched a mission to find another kidnap victim who is reported to be missing, while a manhunt is on for the other two suspects who escaped.
Abu Sayyaf and other Islamist groups target tugboats and cargo ships in the busy waterway.
Duterte recently said he had agreed to let Malaysian and Indonesian forces cross into Philippine waters when pursuing Islamists. and their victims. He also said Malaysian and Indonesia could attack suspected militants to ensure kidnappers would be eradicated, even if they held hostages.