Seven Marine troopers and four Abu Sayyaf members were killed while at least 19 other combatants were injured as government forces clashed with the bandit group in Patikul, Sulu, early Saturday, the military said.

Col. Rodrigo Gregorio, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command spokesman, said the clash started around 6:30 a.m., while members of the Marines’ Force Reconnaissance Company were conducting operations in Brgy. Tugas.

“This is part of the ongoing tracking and pursuit operations in relation to the recent kidnapping of a Marine’s wife in Sulu,” Gregorio said in a text message.

There were many casualties because the troops were “ambushed,” a security official monitoring the situation said, on condition of anonymity.

Gregorio said the “close firefight” resulted in the death of seven soldiers and injuries to nine others.

On the Abu Sayyaf, 10 were wounded and four others, including one Kausar Sawadjaan and a certain commander Apong Idol, were killed, he said.

As of Saturday noon, soldiers and policemen were still conducting “follow through actions” against the Abu Sayyaf.

“The safety and well-being of the community is paramount consideration. Focused military operations will continue to be observed,” Gregorio said.

On May 18, suspected Abu Sayyaf members abducted Casilda Villarasa, wife of Marine Sgt. Faustino Villarasa, in front of the Integrated Provincial Health Office (IPHO) in Jolo.

Villarasa, who works as a medical technologist at the IPHO, is believed to have been taken by her abductors to the jungles of Patikul. (John Roson)

– end –