At least 7 dead after military clash with Abu Sayyaf in Sulu

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 10) — At least seven people were killed in a clash Thursday between military troops and the Abu Sayyaf group in Sulu.

Joint Task Force Sulu Commander Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said the troops encountered around 30 armed men in Sitio Langhub, Brgy. Pang in the town of Kalinangalan Caluang before dawn.

The firefight lasted for 30 minutes, killing two soldiers. while another was wounded in action, he said in a report.

Five of the Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed and seven high-powered firearms were recovered, including two M-16 rifles, an M-14 and a Garand rifle, a sub-machine gun, Sobejana added.

"This is part of our sustained and relentless focused military operations to rescue the remaining kidnap victims, kasi may unvalidated threat na pupugutan daw nila kaya talagang massive 'yung ating ginagawa," Sobejana said in an interview.

[Translation: This is part of our sustained and relentless focused military operations to rescue the remaining kidnap victims, because of unvalidated threat of beheading that's why we have massive operations.]

Sobejana added the Abu Sayyaf group in the province of Sulu has over 23 hostages, including four construction workers and 15 foreign nationals.

"Hindi pa matiyak kung sinong mga biktima kasi nakakalat sila ngayon e. Ang ginawa (ng Abu Sayyaf) kinalat nila yung mga kidnap victims to the subleaders," Sobejana added.

[Translation: We can't identify who the victims are because they're spread out. What Abu Sayyaf is doing, they spread out the kidnap victims to the subleaders.

But he clarified that sometimes the Abu Sayyaf is using the threat of beheading as leverage.

"Every time na mag-demand kasi sila ng ransom they always threaten their victims na pupugutan pagka hindi nagbigay ng ransom, kami naman parang business as usual for them," he said.

[Translation: Every time they demand for ransom they always threaten their victims of beheading, but it's business as usual for them.]

Seven men who were allegedly kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf bandits were found dead last July 31, in the island of Basilan, further south of Sulu.

Read more: Seven men kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf found dead: police

"(Joint Task Force) Sulu forces is determined to continue their relentless and sustained effort in pursuing the ASGs and other lawless elements for the safe rescue of the kidnap victims," a separate statement from Sobejano said.

CNN Philippines' senior correspondent David Santos contributed to this report.