World Bulletin / News Desk
Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo M. Dela Cruz, the commander of Western Mindanao Command, told reporters Friday that troops of the Joint Task Force Sulu engaged in a 45-minute firefight with some 100 Abu Sayyaf members in Patikul town, Sulu province in the Philippines' south earlier in the morning, leaving six militants dead.
Dela Cruz quoted reports from the battleground as saying an undetermined number of the militants were also wounded in the clash, along with the 17 wounded soldiers, who are currently undergoing medical treatment.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr. spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, later added that aside from the six earlier reported, "five enemies were also killed by troops in the focused military operations".
"Total 11 ASG killed," he underlined
Dela Cruz said that among those killed was Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Mohammad Said, alias Ama Maas, who has five standing murder warrants out for his arrest.
Said has been tagged as involved in the kidnapping of three foreigners from the luxurious Samal Island resort off Davao City in September last year.
Two of the foreigners -- Canadians -- were subsequently beheaded after a ransom failed to be paid while a Norwegian remains in captivity.
The Abu Sayyaf deaths followed Wednesday's discovery of a severed head believed to belong to Patrick James Almodovar who was kidnapped July 16 in Indanan town in Sulu -- an Abu Sayyaf stronghold.
Responding to reports of the beheading, President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated his directive to the military to "destroy" the group.
“My orders to the police and armed forces against enemies of the state: seek them out in their lairs and destroy them... The Abu Sayyaf, destroy them, period,” he told a press conference in Davao City, where he served 22 years as mayor.
On Friday, Dela Cruz underlined that the troops were motivated to wipe out the Daesh-linked group.
“They know that this fight against terrorism is greater than themselves," Cruz said in a statement
"The commander in chief... gave a specific order. The mission is clear. Seek and destroy. By any means... that’s what we are doing and we will not stop until it’s done."
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
It is among two militant groups in the south who have pledged allegiance to Daesh, prompting fears during the stalling of a peace process between the government and the country's biggest Moro group that it could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.