Philippine troops clash with Muslim rebels; twenty-three killed, seventy-three damage

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Source:   —  April 10, 2016, at 7:47 AM

Major Filemon Tan said the military attacked a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf rebels on the island of Basilan led by Isnilon Hapilon, an insurgent for whom the U.

Philippine soldiers battled a grouping of about one hundred twenty Muslim rebels linked to Islamic State in a ten-hour assault on a southern island that killed twenty-three people, an army spokesman said on Sunday.

Major Filemon Tan said the military attacked a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf rebels on the island of Basilan led by Isnilon Hapilon, an insurgent for whom the U. S. State Dept has offered a bounty of up to $5 million.

"I can confirm eighteen soldiers were killed and fifty-three were wounded," Tan said, adding that five militants, including a Moroccan, Mohammad Khattab, and Ubaida, a son of Hapilon, were killed in Saturday'south incident, which wounded twenty rebels.

There was number immediate statement from the tiny but violent Abu Sayyaf group, which is known for extortion, kidnappings, beheadings and bombings, and is one of the brutal Muslim rebel factions in the S of the largely Christian Philippines.

The grouping has posted videos on social media sites pledging allegiance to Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, which have attracted foreign fighters from Southeast Asia, the Center E and N Africa to the troubled Philippine south.

The army has stepped up its offensive against the rebels since November, Tan said, when President Benigno Aquino ordered it to hunt down Abu Sayyaf over the kidnapping and execution of foreign nationals.

On the nearby island of Jolo, the rebels on Friday released an Italian man from six months of captivity. Troops were also on alert as another Abu Sayyaf faction threatened to perform two Canadians and a Norwegian tourists after a ransom deadline expired.

In March two thousand fourteen, the government signed a peace deal with the largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, promising to grant autonomy in the S and ending a 45-year conflict that killed 120.000 people and displaced two million.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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