2 Philippine Soldiers, 5 Militants Die in Clashes


MANILA, Philippines -- At least two Philippine army soldiers and five Abu Sayyaf militants were killed in clashes on a southern island province, the military said Saturday.

The running gunbattles that erupted early Friday on Basilan Island also wounded 28 soldiers following their assault on a group of Abu Sayyaf fighters led by Puruji Indama, armed forces spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

Initial military reports on Friday said the fighting in Unkaya Pukan township left three militants dead and 20 soldiers wounded.

"As of early this (Saturday) morning, the operations were still ongoing," Zagala said.

Army brigade commander Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez said Friday that he launched the assault against Indama's group after it threatened and tried to extort money from a key road project in Basilan, a predominantly Muslim province and birthplace of the Abu Sayyaf.

Indama is a young but ruthless commander allegedly involved in deadly bombings and kidnappings.

The military's Western Mindanao Command said in a statement Saturday that the group was demanding 5 million pesos ( $111,000) from the road contractor.

The Abu Sayyaf, which was founded in 1991, is notorious for kidnappings for ransom, beheadings and bombings. It is on the U.S. list of terror organizations.

Zagala said troops also were battling forces under Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon backing Indama.

Washington has offered a $5 million reward for Hapilan, who has been indicted in the United States for alleged involvement in terrorist acts against Americans and others in the Philippines.

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