1 of 5 slain soldiers beheaded
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philipppines—One of five soldiers killed in a clash between government troops and Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Jolo, Sulu, on Friday was beheaded, a top military official said on Saturday.
Col. Allan Arrojado, commander of the Joint Task Group Sulu who made the report, refused to identify the beheaded soldier.
At least 28 have been wounded since fighting started on Friday night in Talipao town, according to Arrojado.
He said 10 Abu Sayyaf members were killed while 30 others were wounded.
Among those killed were Abu Sayyaf group sub-leader Hairullah Asbang, whose body was recovered in the village of Bawisan; and Beting Jakka, brother-in-law of Abu Sayyaf leader Radulan Sahiron.
Maj. Maria Victoria Mandin, executive officer of the Don Basilio Navarro Hospital of the Western Mindanao Command, told reporters that 26 of the wounded soldiers were in stable condition, while two others were brought to the Ciudad Medical Center for treatment of major injuries.
She said majority of the wounded personnel suffered shrapnel wounds “either from mortars or high caliber ammunition.”
3 Abu groups merged
Capt. Maria Rowena Muyuela, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said three big Abu Sayyaf groups merged as the military troops were conducting law enforcement operations in the areas of Bud Bungao, Talipao town in Sulu.
The groups were led by Sahiron, Hatib Sawadjaan and Juli Ekit.
Muyuela said the soldiers had a hard time penetrating and recovering the wounded personnel because the terrain was “thickly vegetated and not easily passable by vehicles.”
The Armed Forces of the Philippines said the wounded soldiers were evacuated to the hospital Friday night and were now in stable condition. The military declined to name the casualties until their nearest kin had been notified by the First Scout Ranger Regiment.
AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. expressed his condolences to the families of the soldier casualties.
“Please allow me to express my heartfelt condolences to those who lost their loved ones while fighting for the country. I thank them for their selfless service,” Catapang said.
Catapang promptly ordered his senior staff officers to send medical teams, mission-essential equipment and additional supplies for the troops.
“I want to personally pin the Gold Cross Medals on all deserving warrior-leaders who displayed conspicuous courage in this particular firefight. Their bravery must be emulated by all soldiers,” he said.
Malacañang meanwhile said the soldiers who were killed in the encounter on Friday made the “ultimate sacrifice” to keep the country safe from terrorists.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Palace condoled with the families of the six soldiers who belonged to the Army’s Scout Rangers.
“We thank them for making the ultimate sacrifice for our country. We salute them for the courage and valor of our soldiers because without them, we would not be able to sleep peacefully at night,” Valte said in Filipino.
Valte assured the families of the slain soldiers that the government would not abandon them in their time of grief.
In a detailed feature article, the AFP Public Affairs Office described the encounter through the eyes of 1st Lt. Michael Asistores, 30.
Asistores, who was among the wounded soldiers, was hit by shrapnel.
High on marijuana
Asistores said that the Abu Sayyaf bandits appeared to have been high on marijuana while fighting the soldiers.
Citing Asistores’ account, the Rangers began “trading fire with the bandits using assault rifles and machine guns” at around 2 p.m.
“Unknown to them, all surrounding hills… were occupied by at least 300 bandits led by five notorious leaders, namely, Radulan Sahiron aka Commander Putol, Hairullah Asbang, Jurim Hussein, Hatib Sawadjaan and Juli Ekit,” the AFP said.
Asistores was the combat leader of the 1st Scout Ranger Company in the “first major encounter of the military against the elusive bandit group after the release of the German kidnap victims three weeks ago,” the AFP said.
Asistores praised the five soldiers for their during the firefight.
“They showed us the true spirit of the Scout Rangers. They died fighting for the country with their combat boots on,” said Asistores.
He also said that he and his men who were now recuperating in the military hospital in Zamboanga, were all willing to come back to Sulu and rejoin their unit.
“I will gladly go back and be with my men in the frontlines. We must crush the Abu Sayyaf and end its kidnapping business,” he said.
Arrojado also said that more troops were deployed in the peripheries of the encounter area to block the Abu Sayyaf’s escape routes. With reports by Cynthia Balana and Nikko Dizon in Manila