ZAMBOANGA CITY -- Security forces repelled Tuesday a group of Abu Sayyaf bandits who staged an attack against workers undertaking a US-funded project in Sulu province.

Brigadier General Rustico Guerrero, chief of the Joint Task Force Comet, said the attack took place around 9:20 p.m. Tuesday in the village of Sionogan, Indanan town.

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Guerrero said the workers were already resting in their barracks at a construction site when more than 50 Abu Sayyaf bandits led by Umbra Jumdail alias Dr. Abu Pula and Tahil Salih arrived and opened fire.

The Marine troops on guard fought and repelled the Abu Sayyaf bandits following a 30-minute exchange of fire, said Guerrero.

He said the al-Qaeda-linked bandits also tried to burn some of the construction equipment.

No one among the government troops were either killed or wounded in the incident.

The workers are employed by a Sulu-based construction firm undertaking a P15 million road project funded by the United States government.

The project is an eight-kilometer road linking the village of Sionogan to Malibaya in the town of Indanan.

Guerrero said he already deployed troops to guard the construction site and its workers to protect them from harassments by the bandits while undertaking development projects.

The attack in Indanan came just two days after Philippine Marines killed seven suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf group in the nearby town of Siasi, also in Sulu.

Lieutenant General Benjamin Mohammad Dolorfino, Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) chief, said the troops clashed with the bandits when they swooped down Laminusa island in the town of Siasi, Sulu, early Sunday.

The troops were in pursuit of a group of Abu Sayyaf bandits led by Abu Benhur alias Boy Tondo when the first clash broke out around 3:40 a.m. in the village of Pookan, Laminusa Island.

The firefight lasted for about 10 minutes with no casualties reported on both the Abu Sayyaf bandits and the advancing troops, he said.

Another firefight ensued around 5 a.m. Sunday as the advancing government forces caught up again the terrorists in the same place.

Dolorfino said the firefight, which lasted for several minutes, resulted in the death of seven members of the lawless group.

A Marine soldier was wounded in the incident.

The troop also recovered 18 high-powered firearms from the bandits.

The Abu Sayyaf had at least 391 fighters as of December, down from 400 a year earlier due to battle casualties, according to a new military report.

The bandits have about 340 firearms in Jolo, the capital of Sulu, as well as in the nearby island of basilan and Zamboanga Peninsula, the report added.

The brutal group has been fighting for years to create an Islamic state in the predominantly Christian nation. The US has blacklisted it as a terrorist organization because of deadly bombings, kidnappings and attacks targeting civilians, including Americans. (Bong Garcia/AP/Sunnex)