Manila: Philippine troops battled about 100 Muslim militants Friday in fierce fighting that killed seven gunmen and a soldier and wounded a top militant commander long wanted by both the Philippines and its US ally, a Filipino general said.
Another 16 soldiers and five militants were hurt in the clash that erupted when troops approached rebels from the Abu Sayyaf group in a jungle off Patikul town in predominantly Muslim Sulu province, said Brig. Gen. Allan Arrojado.
Among them was one-armed rebel commander Radulan Sahiron, who led the Abu Sayyaf faction, Arrojado said.
The US government has offered $1 million for any information leading to the capture and prosecution of Sahiron, one of the original Abu Sayyaf commanders who has endured years of fighting and has been blamed for several bomb attacks and kidnappings.
It was not immediately clear if the militants were with captives, including two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipino woman who were abducted last year in a marina on southern Samal Island. The kidnapped victims were believed to be held in Sulu.
In a recent video posted on a Facebook account linked to the militants, they threatened to kill the hostages unless a huge ransom was paid by 8 April. The Philippine military said the government's no-ransom policy remains and security forces would continue efforts to secure the safe release of the captives.
The Abu Sayyaf is one of several Muslim rebel groups in the predominantly Catholic nation's south. The main rebel group has agreed to peace in exchange for autonomy.