This story has been updated, see update here

(Update) Twelve government soldiers and at least five Abu Sayyaf members were killed in several hours of fighting in Sumisip, Basilan, Thursday, military officials said.

Major Gen. Rainier Cruz, commander of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said a clash erupted around 7:30 a.m. while members of the 11th Scout Ranger Company (11th SRC) were conducting operations in Brgy. Upper Cabengbeng.

Fifty members of the 11th SRC, led by Capt. Rholie Villaluna, encountered an undetermined number of fully-armed men, Cruz said.

Capt. Albert Caber, spokesman of the 1st ID, said the armed men are the same ones who ambushed a truck of the Tumahubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Integrated Development Cooperative (Tarbidc) in Brgy. Sapah Bulak, also in Sumisip, last July 11.

Six people, mostly rubber tappers, were killed and 22 others were wounded in the ambush.

Eight soldiers and Abu Sayyaf members were killed in the clash while at least 16 fighters from two sides were hurt, Caber said.

Reinforcements ambushed

Meanwhile, Caber said four more soldiers were killed and two others were wounded as Abu Sayyaf gunmen ambushed members of the 10th Scout Ranger Company and 32nd Infantry Battalion.

The soldiers were attacked around 3 p.m. while on the way to reinforce a detachment in Brgy. Upper Cabengbeng, which the bandits “harassed” around 1:30 p.m., he said.

Sporadic fighting went on after the ambush, he said, adding that the Special Forces coordinated with higher offices for the possible deployment of air assets.

The military has yet to release names of the slain soldiers, but identified the killed Abu Sayyaf gunmen as Juhair Aliman alias Botong, Kabot Mastul, Hudjata Marain alias Elong, Humaydi Ustadz Hasan, and a certain Halid.

On Wednesday morning, a group of about 20 suspected Abu Sayyaf members also attacked a patrol base of soldiers and militiamen guarding Tarbidc, in Brgy. Cabengbeng. No casualties were reported on both sides.

Major Harold Cabunoc, Army spokesman, said operations against the bandits will continue.

“We could not allow the criminals to disturb the peace, targeting innocent civilians in a mixed Muslim-Christian community in Tumahubong village. Banditry has no place in a civilized world,” he said.

Authorities said that the Abu Sayyaf’s attack on Tarbidc earlier this month was due to the co-operative’s failure to give the “protection fee” that the group was demanding. (John Roson)

This story has been updated, see update here

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