ZAMBOANGA CITY -- Government troops, backed by artillery and helicopter fire, have captured a key jungle camp of Abu Sayyaf bandits in the island province of Sulu, the military said Sunday.
Marines and Army soldiers captured the jungle encampment in the village of Panglayahan, Patikul town in Jolo, the capital of Sulu, around 10:30 a.m. Friday with the help of the US military intelligence, said Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) chief Lieutenant General Benjamin Dolorfino.
He said several members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group were believed killed in the firefight that broke out when the government forces swooped down Panglayahan village following the reported presence of an Abu Sayyaf camp in the area.
Two Marines were wounded in the incident, and at least one body of an Abu Sayyaf fighter killed in the assault was dug up by troops, he added.
The firefight, according to Dolorfino, continued sporadically until the afternoon of Friday, as the bandits led by Radulan Sahiron put up a resistance.
The Abu Sayyafs' positions, however, were softened by artillery fire and air support by two MG-520 helicopters, forcing the bandits to flee.
Dolorfino said Scout Ranger troops, who were newly-deployed in Sulu, were inserted into the fighting scene through heliborne operations to augment the Marine troops that were already engaged in the skirmish with the bandits.
The Army Scout Rangers pursued the bandits, who fled while dragging away some of their wounded comrades toward Talipao town, Dolorfino said.
Sahiron, a one-armed commander who suffers from diabetes and other ailments, apparently survived. Washington D.C., USA has offered a $1 million reward for information leading to Sahiron’s capture or killing.
Recovered inside the camp are improvised bombs and assorted ammunition.
Dolorfino said the camp, which was ringed with foxholes, may have also housed members of the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah because of the unusually tight security.
"They were frisking even their own members before being allowed entry there," Dolorfino said, citing military intelligence. "We believe many of them were killed in the pursuit operation."
The Abu Sayyaf, founded in 1991, has been blamed for bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings. It has reportedly given sanctuary to Indonesian terror suspects, including Dulmatin, a key suspect in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings who was recently killed by police in Indonesia.
Washington has listed the Abu Sayyaf, which has nearly 400 fighters, as a terrorist organization. US-backed offensives have killed or captured many of its commanders in recent years, leaving the group without an overall leader to unify its factions in Jolo, nearby Basilan island and the Zamboanga peninsula. (Bong Garcia/Sunnex)