- The military and the Abu Sayyaf have been engaged in an intense battle since Wednesday
- The Filipino troops have already killed about 40 Abu Sayyaf rebels on the islands of Basilan and Sulu
- The defense minister has said that wiping out the bandit group is the top security priority of the new administration
As the new administration intensifies its efforts to eliminate one of the most dangerous terror groups in Asia, Filipino soldiers were able to kill about 40 members of the Abu Sayyaf Group on the southern islands of Basilan and Sulu during the military offensives conducted over the past week.
Battles between government forces and members of the terror group have been going on since Wednesday. One soldier has been killed and over 24 members of the Abu Sayyaf have been wounded.
"A heavy firefight was still ongoing involving armored vehicles, artillery fire and close-air support," Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Filemon Tan told the media.
Abu Sayyaf has gained more notoriety in recent months due to the beheading of their two Canadian hostages – Robert Hall and John Ridsdel. The bandits are currently holding at least 14 captives – one Norwegian, one Dutch, seven Indonesians and five Filipinos. The group is asking for ransom money in exchange for the lives of the hostages.
Three Indonesians were also abducted from a tugboat on Sunday but there has been no confirmation yet if the Abu Sayyaf bandits are responsible for the hostage-taking.
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According to security experts, the actions of the Abu Sayyaf Group are more motivated by the millions of dollars they receive for their abductions and less by their radical Islamic faith. The money they receive through ransom is used to buy advanced automatic weapons, grenade launchers, hi-tech equipment for navigation and fast boats for easier movement on the islands.
Newly sworn-in President Rodrigo Duterte has warned the Abu Sayyaf Group after killing some of its hostages to stop its kidnappings or else face a deadly confrontation in the near future. Duterte’s defense minister has revealed that completely wiping out the Abu Sayyaf is the main security priority of the new administration.