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5 Marines killed in clash with Vagni captors

By Roel Pareño and Jaime Laude Updated June 14, 2009 12:00 AM

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – At least five Marines were killed while 12 others, including a member of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (SAF) and a civilian volunteer, were wounded after an encounter with Abu Sayyaf bandits holding an Italian Red Cross worker in Sulu, officials said yesterday.

The firefight erupted at about 9:20 a.m. in Barangay Sionugan, Indanan town when the combined forces of the Marines, SAF and the civilian emergency forces (CEF) encountered about 100 Abu Sayyaf bandits led by Albader Parad and Umbra Jumdail alias Dr. Abu Pula.

The government security forces came under heavy fire and grenades but managed to retaliate, according to Lt. Col. Stefani Cacho, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command.

Police Director Felizardo Serapio, chief of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operation (DIPO) Western Mindanao, said there were reports that the Abu Sayyaf group suffered 11 casualties.

“The situation is very fluid. There was heavy fighting on the ground,” Serapio said.

The fierce clashes have brought to seven the number of government troops killed and 15 wounded since last Thursday’s encounter when the security forces caught up with the Abu Sayyaf group in Mt. Timahu.

Parad and Jumdail’s group are believed to be holding Italian Eugenio Vagni, the remaining volunteer of the three International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) abducted last Jan. 15 in Patikul town.

Vagni’s two other companions, Filipina Mary Jean Lacaba and Swiss Andreas Notter, were freed last April 2 and 18 in Indanan town and the provincial government of Sulu had given the military the go-signal for the rescue of Vagni.

Two Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) of the Marines were also immobilized
in the attack staged on a police and Marine convoy.

“They were treacherously fired upon. Despite sustaining heavy casualties from the initial hail of bullets from high-powered firearms and grenades, our security forces returned fire forthwith and engaged the enemies,” added Task Force ICRC spokesman Marine Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo.

Prior to yesterday’s encounter, the Marines and SAF were out to conduct saturation drive within the Timahu complex.

On Thursday, two Marines and six Abu Sayyaf were killed as government security forces, out to rescue Vagni, attacked the terrorists’ lair in Timahu complex.

Among the Abu Sayyaf killed were two sons of Abu Jumdael and his grandson, who is the son of Parad from his (Jumdael’s) daughter Marina.

Meanwhile, the dead and wounded government troops were brought to the military’s trauma hospital inside the 3rd Marine Brigade headquarters in Busbus, Sulu prior to their transfer to Zamboanga City.

Another source in Sulu said yesterday that Vagni is still alive.

“He is just within the vicinity. Except for yesterday, he’s regularly contacting his family back in Italy,” the source said, adding that they have the ways and means to monitor Vagni’s text messages and telephone calls to his wife.

In a related development, Army troops killed 10 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members in heavy fighting that separately broke out in Maguindanao on Friday, the military reported yesterday.

Fighting first occurred between elements of the Army’s 601st Brigade and about 100 MILF rebels at Barangay Kateman, Talayan town at about 11 a.m.

As the troops were about to subdue the rebels under the command of Ameril Umbra Kato after two hours of heavy fighting, heavy skirmishes between another group of MILF rebels and Army troops broke out in Barangay Ahan in Guindulungan town.

Twenty MILF rebels were also wounded in the encounter, the military said.


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