3 Marines dead in clash with Abu Sayyaf

Posted on October 29, 2012

ZAMBOANGA CITY -- Three Marines and two others died in a heavy fire fight yesterday between government soldiers and Abu Sayyaf members after a rescue attempt in the island-province of Sulu.

Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) spokesperson Lt. Col. Randolph G. Cabangbang told BusinessWorld the five-hour early morning encounter occurred after troops were ordered to verify sightings of kidnap victims Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani and European birdwatchers Ewold Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguerra.

“The Marine company was conducting patrol to verify reports of the presence of kidnap victims in the area,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Atyani was abducted in June in Sulu while trying to seek an exclusive interview with Abu Sayyaf leaders, while Messrs. Horn and Vinciguerra were abducted in February in the island-province of Tawi-Tawi.

Mr. Cabangbang said the troops failed to see the kidnap victims as they were met with a volley of gunfire from alleged Abu Sayyaf members in the town of Patikul.

Marine Battalion Landing Team 6, in particular, “encountered an undetermined number of Abu Sayyaf members under Radullan Sahiron and armed followers of Tahil Sali in Barangay Bakong in the town of Patikul,” he added.

Newly installed WestMinCom chief Maj. Gen. Rey C. Ardo said he has ordered the dispatch of air and naval forces to support the ground troops and ensure that the bodies of the slain Marines are recovered and the wounded soldiers are brought to the nearest medical facility.

Mr. Cabangbang said airlifting operations are ongoing to retrieve the casualties.

Government troops have been fighting the Abu Sayyaf for more than two decades in the island-provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The group has initially espoused a separatist Muslim community but has since degenerated into a crime group involved in extortion and kidnap-for-ransom activities.

Kidnappers in Sulu are still holding several captives, including a Japanese and a Chinese-Filipino businessman.

Although some Abu Sayyaf leaders have been neutralized with the aid of US soldiers stationed in Zamboanga through new surveillance technology, some hard-core leaders and members remain still active on the island kidnapping foreigners.

The Abu Sayyaf, whose followers number in the low hundreds, is blamed for the country’s worst terrorist attacks including a ferry bombing in 2004 that killed more than 100.

The group is also behind a series of high-profile kidnapping of foreign and local tourists as well as businessmen.

The group is known for, among others, kidnapping tourists at a resort in Palawan province that ended several months later in the bloody rescue of Christian missionary Gracia Burnham in Basilan. Her husband, Martin, was killed in the fire fight, while another US citizen, Peru-born Guillermo Sobero, was beheaded in captivity.

It is on the US government’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, and a number of American advisers have been rotating in Mindanao for the past decade helping local counterparts to try to crush the group.

Muslim rebels have even rejected the bandits’ criminal activities which were described as anti-Islam. -- Darwin T. Wee with AFP