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10 soldiers killed in Basilan clash

MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - Philippine elite troops backed by helicopter gunships fought Al-Qaeda-linked militants Thursday in the group's stronghold on a southern island, in clashes that killed 19 people, the military said.

The soldiers battled Islamic extremists from the Abu Sayyaf group on the troubled island of Basilan, with the fighting leaving at least 10 soldiers and 9 militants dead.

Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said 8 of the soldiers died in the morning clash in Barangay Upper Cabengbeng, Sumisip town. Two more soldiers died in another skirmish in the afternoon. At least 16 soldiers were wounded.

Cabangbang said nine bandits died in the firefight, including local Abu Sayyaf leader Juhair Aliman, Ustadz Hassan Asnawi, Jumaidi Asnawi, Narham Asnawi, Jarad Marain and Jaz Umangkat.

Casualty figures may be even higher as not all the fallen Abu Sayyaf fighters were recovered, the military said.

Cabangbang said Thursday’s clash was triggered by an alleged harassment of the bandit group of soldiers stationed near a rubber plantation in the area on Wednesday.

According to Cabangbang, the attack was perpetrated by Wyms Wakil, a former assistant manager of the rubber plantation’s cooperative who was fired last year.

Cabangbang said Wakil also has links to separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) but is “more inclined” to work with the Abu Sayyaf Group.

“For the past nine months he did nothing but to harass the rubber plantation employees. So far 16 already died and 34 were wounded from the side of the workers. He has some ax to grind,” Cabangbang told ABS-CBN News Channel.

The latest of the attacks was carried out last July 11, where at least six people died and 22 were wounded.

The plantation workers' cooperative operating in the area had previously received extortion letters purportedly from the Abu Sayyaf demanding payment of over $1,000 a month in exchange for not being harmed.

Cabangbang said troops seemed to have trapped some of the bandits in a portion of the province and the military will be sending reinforcements in the area.

“We are ready to re-engage, we will be re-supplying them (soldiers) today. Our wounded have been evacuated already. We will try to engage them again today and tomorrow,” Cabangbang said.

Abu Sayyaf Group, which was founded in the 1990s with seed money from then Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history including deadly bombings and kidnappings for ransom.

The heavily-forested island of Basilan has long been a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf.

About 600 US troops have been rotating through the southern Philippines for a decade to help train local troops in hunting the Abu Sayyaf. However the Americans are barred from taking part in combat.

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Agence France-Presse/ABS-CBNnews.com | July 27, 2012 | Article Link

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