Philippine troops battle militants in south, at least 9 dead

AP News
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Posted: Dec 30, 2015 8:40 AM

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine troops clashed Wednesday with about 100 Abu Sayyaf gunmen suspected of plotting attacks on New Year's Eve, leaving eight militants and one soldier dead, officials said.

Regional military spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan said the fighting was still continuing late Wednesday in a hinterland village off Patikul town in Sulu province. At least one soldier and seven militants were wounded, he said.

A police report, citing intelligence information, said the militants were planning to carry out bombings in downtown Jolo town in predominantly Muslim Sulu and attack police and military detachments on New Year's Eve.

The militants were believed to be led by Abu Sayyaf commander Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who has been blamed for several kidnappings, including of foreign tourists.

The Abu Sayyaf previously aligned itself with al-Qaida but at least two of its factional commanders have expressed support for the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq since last year.

The United States and the Philippines have both listed the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for deadly bomb attacks, ransom kidnappings and beheadings.

The small but violent group has been weakened by more than a decade of U.S.-backed Philippine military offensives but has survived, financing itself largely by kidnappings and extortion.

There has been no evidence of a direct link between the Abu Sayyaf and the Islamic State group, according to the Philippine government.