IN its first major counter-terrorism offensive since President Rodrigo Duterte took office, the Philippine military said its troops have killed 40 Abu Sayyaf extremists and wounded 25 others in two battlefronts.
Regional military spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan said on Monday that 22 militants had been killed and 16 others wounded in the assaults that started last week in the jungles of Sulu province. One soldier had been killed in the fighting.
“Focused military operations are intensified, in coordination with the police and the local governments of the provinces of Basilan and Sulu, to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf Group,” Tan was quoted as saying in GMA News Online.
Tan says 18 Abu Sayyaf fighters had been killed and nine others wounded in simultaneous offensives on the nearby island province of Basilan.
Duterte has warned Abu Sayyaf to stop a wave of ransom kidnappings, warning that he would eventually confront them. His military chief said last week a looming offensive would “shock and awe” the extremists.
On Monday, the head of Indonesia’s intelligence agency said three Indonesians were kidnapped at sea by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants over the weekend.
Sutiyoso, who goes by one name, said the men were working on a Malaysian fishing boat off Lahad Datu in the Malaysian part of northern Borneo. Several other crew members on the boat managed to escape.
The kidnapping is the latest in a series of raids on boats this year by Abu Sayyaf militants based in the southern Philippines.
The kidnappings have also highlighted weak security in the Cerebes Sea that borders Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Apart from seven Indonesian tugboat crew members abducted off Sulu in June, the militant group is still currently holding about a dozen Filipino and foreign hostages in the region.
Additional reporting by Associated Press