World Media

Filipino soldiers killed, 52 others wounded in clash

Philippines 18 troops reported dead in clashes in south

At least four soldiers were beheaded in the fighting, which involved about a hundred Islamist militants, regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan said.

According to military sources cited by the AP news agency, Manilla deployed troops to capture or kill Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon, who has been hunted for years over various terror attacks.

The Philippine Army chief, Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano, who was among the military officials who visited Zamboanga City, said the wounded soldiers were in good spirits despite the encounter.

In a statement Tan added that the military "continues its intensified focused military operations in tracking down the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) responsible for the series of kidnappings and atrocities in the area".

According to the official, the militants were able to amass around 100-150 fighters very quickly, allowing them to inflict large casualties on troops, the officials said.

Among the five militants killed were a Moroccan, Mohammed Khattab, and one of Hapilon's sons, Ubaida, Reuters reported.

Another military spokesman said the soldiers were on their way to attack an Abu Sayyaf hideout when they were themselves attacked.

The report added that past year 44 police commandos were also killed in battles with various Takfiri militant groups in southern Mamasapano town while on a covert mission that was fraught with faulty planning and execution.

Eighteen other foreign hostages are being held in the Philippines, most or all of them thought to be by the Abu Sayyaf.

The latest fighting in the Mindanao island group, home to numerous country's five million Muslims, comes as a peace deal that the government signed with the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group, remains stalled in Congress. With an unwieldy collective of preachers and outlaws, it vowed to wage jihad, or holy war, but lost its key leaders early in combat, sending it on a violent path of extremism and criminality.

The US have blacklisted Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for a string of deadly bombings, extortion, kidnappings for ransom, and gruesome beheadings of locals and foreigners, including Christian missionaries.

On Friday a retired Italian priest being held hostage by the group was released after six months in captivity.

In March the Abu Sayyaf posted a video on its Facebook page in which a Norwegian and two Canadian hostages said they would be killed if a ransom was not paid.