By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
The military acknowledged the support of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which once sowed terror for being excluded in the government’s peace initiatives with Muslim rebels, in the effort to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf terror group.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command of the Philippine Army, said on Monday that at least 10 Abu Sayyaf militants have been killed and six other members wounded in the offensive operation in the jungle of Patikul town in Sulu because of the MNLF’s assistance.
Tan said the relentless pressure exerted by the military and the MNLF on the Abu Sayyaf Group resulted in the release of the last two Indonesian fishermen held by the terrorists in Sulu. The freed Indonesians were identified as Mohammad Nazer and Robin Peter, the last two of seven crew of the Tugboat Charles 00 kidnapped by the bandits off the waters of Simisa, Sulu last June.
He attributes the release of the victims to the pressure exerted by non-stop military operations of Joint Task Force Sulu and pressure from the MNLF.
“They were released by the ASG captors to Moro National Liberation Front commander Tahir Sali in Indanan town after being pressured by non-stop military operations and pressure by the MNLF,” Tan said.
In the offensive, at least three soldiers were also killed while 21 others were wounded from the government side in the more than two-hour encounter Saturday at Bud (Mountain) Taming, Barangay Kabuntakas, Patikul town.
Tan said troops from the 35th Infantry Battalion (35th IB) clashed with 150 militants led by Abu Sayyaf senior leader Radullan Sahiron, and sub-leaders Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, Yasser Igasan, and Mujer Yadah.
Tan said the casualty figure of the Abu Sayyaf Group was verified on the ground following the continuous pursuit.
“The fact that the encounter went on for a longer period confirmed that there were severalkilled and wounded from the Abu Sayyaf Group because they have to retrieve and withdraw their casualties. That is why they have to stick in the fighting to get time in retrieving their casualties,” he said.
“We have confirmed and validated through intelligence reports that 10 Abu Sayyaf (members) were killed and 6 were wounded. Actually, we know where they live because the civilian populace also confirmed to us,” he added.
Tan said during the encounter, ground artilleries and air supports were also provided to engaging soldiers on the ground.
The Westmincom spokesman said that there were reports that some of the Abu Sayyaf Group sub-leaders were also wounded but they have to confirm and verify the information on the ground.
He said the slain and wounded Abu Sayyaf militants were identified already. Tan said there were no immediate sightings of any kidnap victims during the encounter.
“However, we believed so that some of the hostages may be at the rear position of the engaging militants because the signs that the kidnap victims are there is that the Abu Sayyaf Group are not retreating immediately in the encounter to buy time for the rest of their companions to slip out their captives,” he said.
Tan said reports they gathered showed the Abu Sayyaf are still holding 20 foreigners and five locals.
According to him, the Joint Task Force Sulu continued to onduct pursuit operations and intensified further the conduct of focused military operations to rescue the remaining kidnap victims and neutralize the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.
Tan said the transport of the newly-released victims from Sulu to Zamboanga City and their subsequent turnover to Indonesian authorities are now being arranged and facilitated by the Joint Task Force Sulu.