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7 slain, 22 others hurt as soldiers, Sayyaf clash

By FROILAN GALLARDO
Special Correspondent .

FIGHTING erupted in Sulu resulting in three soldiers and four militants killed and 22 combatants from both sides wounded on Friday.

Armed Forces Western Command spokesperson Lt. Col. Gerry Besana said the military were pursuing Abu Sayyaf leader Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, alleged mastermind of the Jan. 27 bombing of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo that left at least 20 dead and a hundred wounded.

Besana said Army scout rangers were dispatched to Sitio Atol, Barangay Latih in Patikul town after information was verified that Sawadjaan and 80 of his men were in the village.

“Unfortunately the militants have prepared against this kind of incursion,” Besana said.

Besana said three soldiers were killed immediately after the militants fired M203 rifle grenades at the advancing troops.

He said 13 soldiers were also wounded in the fighting as the militants took advantage of the dense vegetation around the village.

Besana described the battle as “close quarters with combatants only 50 to 80 meters apart.”

He said army units fought hard to reach the scout rangers, firing 81mm mortars against the positions of the militants.

Besana said they have recovered four bodies of the militants and intercepts on the radio revealed that at least fourteen members of Sawadjaan group were wounded.

The fighting came after Malaysian kidnap victim, Jari Abdullah, 34, was shot by his captors during a firefight in Simisa Islan in Sulu.

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