Newspaper article International New York Times

Philippine Soldiers Killed in Attack ; Gun Battle with Militants in South Leaves at Least 18 Dead and 50 Wounded

Newspaper article International New York Times

Philippine Soldiers Killed in Attack ; Gun Battle with Militants in South Leaves at Least 18 Dead and 50 Wounded

Article excerpt

The 10-hour gun battle took place on the southwestern island of Basilan, the Philippines, and left more than 50 soldiers wounded, military officials said.

At least 18 soldiers were killed and more than 50 wounded in a gun battle in the southern Philippines between government forces and the militant group Abu Sayyaf, military officials said on Sunday.

The dead also included a Moroccan-born bomb maker and the son of a rebel leader, the military said. It said that more than 20 rebels were believed to have been wounded, but offered no additional details.

The firefight took place on Saturday on the southwestern island of Basilan and lasted 10 hours, the military said. The day before, Abu Sayyaf had released Rolando del Torchio, a former Italian missionary turned restaurateur who was kidnapped from his pizzeria in the southern Philippine city of Dipolog in October.

At least 20 other foreign citizens are still being held by the group. The military did not make a connection on Sunday between the release of Mr. del Torchio and the gun battle, other than that both involved factions of Abu Sayyaf.

A group of soldiers hunting Abu Sayyaf near the small town of Tipo-Tipo was attacked at 8 a.m. on Saturday, said Capt. Filemon Tan, a spokesman for the military. Among the soldiers wounded in the ensuing fighting, he said, six were in critical condition.

Captain Tan said that among the dead was a Moroccan, Mohammad Khattab, whom he described as a "bomb instructor and Islamic jihadist preacher who was trying to organize and unite local lawless armed groups to link with international terrorist groups, as well as spread radicalism and extremism."

Abu Sayyaf and other rebel groups in the southern Philippines have released videos on YouTube proclaiming their allegiance to the Islamic State, but the Philippine military has said that the militants are simply admirers of the international terror group and that there is no indication they are receiving financing, expertise or other support from it. …

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