At least four Islamic State-linked militants and a government soldier were killed in a heavy firefight in the southern Philippines on Saturday, when a gunbattle broke out as pursuing military forces caught up with suspected Abu Sayyaf fighters, officials said.
Five other Abu Sayyaf suspects and four soldiers were wounded in the clash that lasted nearly half an hour in Kabbon Takas, a village in the remote town of Patikul on Jolo, one of the islands that make up Sulu province, the Philippine military said.
A spokesman for the local Joint Task Force Sulu confirmed details about Saturday’s deadly firefight in a report. He said the wounded government troops were being treated at a military hospital and appeared to be out of harm’s way.
“Ground information and reports gathered by troops from the nearby communities [indicate] there were four Abu Sayyaf members killed and five wounded,” Lt. Gen. Gerald Monfort said.
He said the rebel force was composed of about 40 militants from a faction led by Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who is acknowledged as the new leader of the southern Philippine branch of Islamic State (IS).
The pursuing troops recovered one of the bodies of the slain militants and his M16 rifle, along with some personal belongings, backpacks, food provisions and cooking paraphernalia, Monfort said.
The firefight came three days after troops engaged Abu Sayyaf militants in another gunbattle in Sulu that left three policemen and a government militiaman wounded.
Philippine authorities have blamed Sawadjaan for planning and orchestrating suicide bombings in 2019 that used foreign militants. These included an attack by two Indonesians who blew themselves up at a Catholic Church in Jolo town in January. Twenty-three people were killed in the twin bombings there.
Sawadjaan took over as the IS leader in the region after Isnilon Hapilon, another Abu Sayyaf commander who headed the Islamic State branch in the Philippines, was killed in October 2017 at the end of a long battle with government forces in the southern city of Marawi.
In May 2017, Hapilon led pro-IS fighters from the Philippines and other countries in a siege of the city. The militant takeover precipitated a five-month battle that destroyed Marawi and left an estimated 1,200 militants, soldiers and civilians dead.