ZAMBOANGA (Updated, 4:12 p.m.) -- A military spokeswoman said the attack of gunmen believed to be Abu Sayyaf bandits in a village in Basilan province early Saturday was possibly motivated by a clan war.
Western Mindanao Command spokeswoman Steffani Cacho said in a television interview that one of the 10 wounded civilians named a certain Kumander Leleng Laping and Vic Alao as allegedly involved in the rido (clan war).
Alao was a former member of Citizens Armed Forces Geographic Unit (Cafgu). He was expelled by Kumander Leleng and the barangay.
The military is yet to get the statement of Kumander Leleng on the matter while a hot pursuit operation against those involved in the killings is ongoing, said Cacho.
The gunmen, who were initially believed to be members of the extremist Abu Sayyaf group and backed by other armed groups, attacked the village of Tubigan in Basilan, said Cacho.
One government-armed militiaman and 10 civilians were killed.
Basilan provincial police chief Antonio Mendoza said the gunmen strafed and torched five houses before escaping. Ten other villagers were wounded.
Deputy Regional Police Commander Sonny David said the villagers were sleeping when the gunmen came with their guns blazing.
“They spared no one, not even the children," David said.
Four children were among those killed, said Armed Forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner. He corrected an earlier report that the target of the attack was the village's militia detachment.
"They really attacked the villagers," he said.
One of the villagers, who are mostly citrus farmers, told police he was awakened by the sound of gunfire and saw blood oozing from his body, David said.
"The gunmen strafed and torched at least 10 houses before escaping," David said.
A 32-year-old woman and her one-year-old daughter were burned to death, he added.
At least 11 who suffered burns and gunshot wounds were brought to two hospitals in the nearby port city of Zamboanga, a hospital staff said.
Mohagher Iqbal, the chief rebel negotiator in peace talks with the government, said his group's local cease-fire committee reported no members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front were involved.
The attack came in the wake of the recent killing of an Abu Sayyaf commander and the arrest of two key members. Government forces had been told to be on alert for reprisal attacks.
It was the worst attack on civilians since 2001, when militants seized dozens of villagers and later beheaded nine farmers and shot to death another in Basilan's Lamitan township.
Mendoza said the attack also came a day after security forces rescued two Chinese nationals in nearby Sumisip town. The two men were abducted by suspected militants from a plywood factory in Maluso in November. A Filipino worker who was seized along with them was beheaded by the kidnappers.
Brawner said troops from the Army's 32nd Infantry Battalion were in pursuit of the gunmen.
National police chief Jesus Verzosa, for his part, ordered local police in Basilan to join the operation.
Basilan Island is about 550 miles (880 kilometers) south of Manila. It is one of several islands where the Abu Sayyaf is active.
Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad -- wanted for murder and kidnappings, including last year's abduction of three Red Cross workers -- was killed last weekend during a raid on his camp on Jolo Island, farther south of Basilan.
A day earlier, police captured Mujibar Alih Amon, an alleged Abu Sayyaf logistics officer who took part in the 2000 abduction of American Muslim convert Jeffrey Schilling, who later escaped, and 21 Western tourists and staff of a Malaysian resort earlier that year.
Last week, security forces captured Jumadali Arad, who was allegedly the operator of the speedboat used in the abduction of 20 hostages snatched from a southwestern resort in 2001. The hostages included three Americans, two of whom were later killed.
In the last six years of US-backed counter-terrorism strikes, Philippine security forces have killed or arrested more than 800 suspected militants, including 12 in February alone, said Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor.
The Abu Sayyaf, which is fighting to create an Islamic caliphate in the predominantly Christian nation, still has about 400 fighters. It is on the US-list of terrorist organizations. (AP/Sunnex)