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Terrorism & Security

Philippine troops clash with Abu Sayyaf militants

The Islamist group is holding three Red Cross workers hostage on a southern island.

By Huma Yusuf / March 17, 2009

Abu Sayyaf: Members of the militant group are shown in the jungle in southern Philippines in this undated photo released by the Philippine government. Abu Sayyaf is holding three Red Cross workers hostage.

Philippine government official/AP

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At least six people have been killed and 19 wounded on the second day of fighting between Philippine troops and the Islamist group Abu Sayyaf on the southern Philippine island of Sulu (Jolo). Fighting erupted Monday when the leader of Abu Sayyaf – which has taken three International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers hostage – tried to break through a military encirclement. Philippine government officials and the Red Cross are concerned that the intensifying clashes pose a risk to the hostages' lives.

According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, an English-language Philippine daily, three of the dead were Philippine soldiers.

[Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Gaudencio Pangilinan] said the wounded soldiers included four who were hurt when troops ... clashed with between 50 to 90 fighters believed to be the main Abu Sayyaf force holding Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni, and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba in the vicinity of Barangay (village) Buton Mahablo, Parang town around 5:30 a.m….

The exact number of deaths resulting from the clashes has not been verified, reports GMA News, the website of a Philippine radio and television station. There are unconfirmed reports that, in addition to three Philippine Army soldiers, six Abu Sayyaf militants have also been killed, but this has not been confirmed.

The leader of the Abu Sayyaf group may have been wounded or killed in the Monday clashes, but this also remains unconfirmed, reports the Associated Press.

A marine officer said at least two militants were hit by gunfire, and one of them might have been Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad. The marines could not approach to confirm if Parad was wounded or killed because of sporadic rebel fire, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The military was still trying to confirm if Parad was hit, [military spokesman] Pangilinan said.
U.S. and Philippine officials have offered a reward for the capture or killing of Parad, a young militant who has gained notoriety for alleged involvement in past kidnappings and beheadings.

The Philippine military has clarified that the clashes are not part of an attempt to rescue the three kidnapped ICRC workers, reports Reuters.

Pangilinan told reporters that the fighting near Indanan town of Jolo was not an attempt to rescue the hostages.
He said the fighting started when the kidnappers tried to break out of the military cordon around the area.
"There is no word on the hostages. But there was no sighting of them, so they might be away from the scene of the fighting," Pangilinan said.

Although the military cannot ascertain the exact whereabouts of the three ICRC hostages, their equipment was found at the scene of the clashes on Tuesday, reports Agence France-Presse.

Troops in the Philippines have found tents and other equipment belonging to three Red Cross workers held hostage by Islamic militants, the military said Tuesday.
It followed a firefight that likely killed one of their kidnappers in what is believed to be the closest yet that government forces have come to locating the three.
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