Members of the Philippine Marines aboard a military truck return to their camp after they were deployed in Patikol town, Jolo, Sulu province in the southern Philippines. Twenty six people died and 43 were wounded in a clash between Philippine troops and Islamist militants. (EPA Photo)
The death toll from clashes between Philippine troops and Muslim militants who launched a surprise attack to regain control of a jungle training camp in a southern province has risen to 26, officials said Thursday.
Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, the regional military spokeswoman, said the latest field reports showed 25 Abu Sayyaf militants have been killed and 24 wounded. One Philippine marine had died and 19 were wounded.
No fresh fighting was reported Thursday but the death toll rose from 15 because some of the wounded militants died, Muyuela said. Twenty of the dead Abu Sayyaf fighters were identified based on information from local residents.
Government soldiers had captured the well-fortified militant camp, concealed by shrubs and trees in the mountains, on Monday. Containing about 50 huts, it had been used by the militants to train recruits, for meetings and as a staging area for attacks and kidnappings, marine commander Brig. Gen. Martin Pinto said.
Lacuesta said at least three Abu Sayyaf factions combined to stage Tuesday's attack, but marines backed by helicopter gunships and artillery fire beat back the militants, who withdrew in different directions, said marine spokesman Capt. Ryan Lacuesta.
Abu Sayyaf, which is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations, has had links with foreign terrorist networks, including al-Qaida. It is notorious for bombings, extortion, kidnappings and beheadings, and has targeted foreign missionaries and tourists in the south.
An estimated 300 militants, who are split into several factions, still hold several hostages in their jungle bases in Sulu province, including two European bird watchers who were abducted two years ago. A Chinese tourist and a Filipino hotel worker who were recently kidnapped by the militants from a dive resort in Malaysia's Sabah state have also been brought an Abu Sayyaf camp in Sulu, Philippine security officials said.
Huge ransom payments have allowed the militants to survive and finance attacks despite on-and-off U.S.-backed Philippine military offensives.