MANILA, Philippines – Clashes between government forces and Muslim extremists on a southern island Thursday (July 26th) left seven soldiers and four militants dead, the military said.
Elite rangers battled members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group on the troubled southern island of Basilan, with three soldiers and two insurgents also wounded in the clash.
The Abu Sayyaf gunmen had initially attacked rubber plantation workers on the island and the military had rushed to the scene to repel them, said regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang.
Helicopter gunships were deployed to support the troops, he said.
"The fighting is taking place in a forested area. Our troops are engaged in an intense running gun battle," Cabangbang told AFP.
The same group of Abu Sayyaf fighters had launched similar attacks in the same part of Basilan in previous weeks including an ambush that left six farm workers dead and 22 wounded on July 11th, he said.
The plantation workers' co-operative in the area had previously received extortion letters purportedly from the Abu Sayyaf demanding over $1,000 a month in exchange for not being harmed.
The heavily forested island of Basilan has long been a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, which was founded in the 1990s with seed money from Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The group has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippines history including deadly bombings and kidnappings for ransom, often targeting foreigners and Christians.