MANILA, Philippines (AP) — At least three Abu Sayyaf extremists were killed and 10 Philippine marines were wounded in a clash Friday with about 300 of the militants in a remote southern village, the military said.
The marines were conducting an operation when they encountered the group of Abu Sayyaf gunmen near a forested hill in Patikul township, said Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, military commander of southern Sulu province.
He said troops fired at least four mortar shells at Abu Sayyaf positions during the hourlong gunbattle.
About two weeks earlier, up to 15 Abu Sayyaf gunmen were believed killed when government forces stormed a jungle base belonging to the militants. Two kidnapped Philippine coast guard personnel were able to escape during that raid.
Arrojado said an Abu Sayyaf subcommander who was among the gunmen in Friday's gunbattle had also fought in the earlier clash in nearby Indanan township.
The militants are still holding other hostages, including two Malaysians, a Dutch bird watcher kidnapped nearly three years ago, and a town mayor.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 fighters, has split into several factions. The group is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations for deadly bomb attacks, kidnappings and beheadings.
It is one of at least four small armed groups outside of a peace deal the Philippine government signed last year with the largest Muslim rebel group, the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The peace accord aims to settle a decadeslong separatist rebellion by minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic country.