14 dead in fierce clashes
SOLDIERS clashed with heavily armed members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) spotted in a town in Bohol on Tuesday, a day after security officials confirmed the existence of a terror threat in Central Visayas.
The fierce firefight left 14 people dead, four of them government troops.
At least one policeman was confirmed killed in the fight, national police spokesman Senior Superintendent Dionardo Carlos said in a statement.
Officials said the fighting erupted in the village of Ilaya in Inabanga town where civilians reported to the police the presence of Abu Sayyaf rebels who arrived in several speedboats.
The firefight occurred two days after the United States Embassy in Manila issued a travel advisory warning its citizens against travelling to Cebu and Bohol because of the threat of kidnapping.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald De la Rosa said the rebel group’s early detection stopped the rebels from carrying out their kidnapping plan.
“We reacted to the information, our operatives checked it and the troops managed to corner them,” he said.
The clashes that started at 7 a.m. continued until late Tuesday afternoon. More troops from the Army, Air Force and the Navy were deployed to reinforce the security forces in Inabanga.
Intelligence reports said that the armed men were led by ASG sub-leader Muammar Askali alias Abu Rami, whose group was initially monitored in Sindangan, Zamboanga Del Norte. The rebels reached Inabanga Monday night.
The incursion would be the first on a major tourist destination in recent years by the Abu Sayyaf, which has long engaged in kidnappings for ransom—often targeting foreigners.
Bohol is a major tourist destination, where foreign tourists swim with whale sharks and marvel at tiny primates called tarsiers, go on cruises aboard boats on crystal-clear rivers and lounge at white-sand beaches.
Five bodies have been recovered at the scene of the fighting, military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said in a talevision interview.
Padilla said the army had received information over the past few weeks about “a potential activity on the part of some lawless elements to disturb the peace” in the area.
“The clearing operations are ongoing and we are pouring in more forces to help and assist. We hope to finish this by the end of the day,” the spokesman added.
Armed Forces chief Eduardo Año said that prior to the encounter, members of the Army’s 47th Infantry Battalion and the Bohol Provincial Police Office and the Regional Public Safety Battalion were sent to the area after intelligence information revealed the presence of heavily armed men.
“The security operation was launched in relation to the monitored presence of 10 armed men with three pump boats along the riverside of Sitio Ilaya, Barangay Napo in the area of Inabanga, Bohol. The information came from alert residents and other citizens who were watching over their respective communities,” the AFP chief said.
“Security forces reported that the group was armed with heavy caliber weapons but (is) now cornered in an isolated section of the Sitio,” he added.
The Abu Sayyaf, also blamed for deadly bombings, has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State movement that holds large swathes of Iraq and Syria.
Over the past year, the Abu Sayyaf has been expanding its activities, boarding commercial and fishing vessels off their southern island stronghold of Jolo, near Malaysia, and abducting dozens of foreign crew members.
They beheaded a German tourist earlier this year and two Canadian tourists last year, all three of them having been seized at sea.
In May 2001, Abu Sayyaf fighters raided the posh Dos Palmas resort and seized over a dozen tourists, including American missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham and California man Guillermo Sobero. They brought the hostages in Basilan, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, and ransomed off some of their wealthy victims.
Guillermo and Martin were killed separately while Gracia – although shot and wounded during a firefight between troops and jihadists – was rescued in Zamboanga del Norte province.
The presence of Abu Sayyaf rebels prompted the island-province of Camiguin, a popular tourist destination in Northern Mindanao, to heighten its security.
Superintendent Reggie Oñate, Camiguin police deputy provincial director for operations, said the police and the local government units in the island intensified their security as they closely watch the development in Bohol in anticipation of the possible spill over of the gunfight to the island.
Mambajao Mayor Jurdin Jesus Romualdo that the local government was monitoring the situation in Bohol as tourists visiting the White Island and Mantigue Island, two of the popular tourist spots in Camiguin, were not evacuated.
Camiguin island is about 182 nautical (535 kms) southeast of Bohol island. It is four hours away from the southern town of Jagna, Bohol by boat.
Oñate said that the eruption of violence in Bohol will have “no effect” on the religious activities in Camiguin, particularly the yearly “Panaad” (vows) that is part of the observance of the Holy Week in the area. With AFP and