Government troops have captured a camp of a Daesh-linked militant group after a 45-minute firefight in the southern Philippines' predominantly Muslim province of Sulu.
An army spokesperson said Wednesday a group of militants from the Abu Sayyaf group -- who are believed to be holding a number of foreign hostages -- were located in Barangay Gulangan in the town of Maimbung at around 8.00 a.m. (0100GMT) Tuesday.
Major Filemon Tan Jr. said troops of the 14th Special Ranger Company seized the camp, following an armed engagement with the group, which is believed to be led by Idang Susukan.
Susukan is a brother of Sulu-based Abu Sayyaf leader Mujiv Susukan, and has been linked by the military to the beheading of Malaysian hostage Bernard Then after his family failed to pay a ransom in November 2015.
"Said encampment, which can accommodate more or less 200 persons and is equipped with water source, was seized amid a pursuit and clearing operations launched by the operating troops," Tan told reporters.
Found in the encounter site were gun parts, personal belongings, and a motorcycle, added Tan.
"No casualty was reported on the government side, while undetermined [people were injured] on the Abu Sayyaf's."
It is not known if hostages were with the group during the firefight.
The battle followed Monday's release of a video that showed hostages Canadian Robert Hall, Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad and Filipina Marites Flor pleading for their lives.
The Abu Sayyaf has threatened to behead them June 13 unless a 600 million peso ($12.9 million) ransom is paid by 3 p.m. -- as they did with fellow Canadian hostage 68-year-old Canadian John Ridsdel April 25 after a 300 million peso ransom failed to be paid.
Army public affairs office chief Col. Noel Detoyato told reporters Wednesday that the military operations will continue against the group despite its ultimatum.
"We will not stop until… normalcy is restored. We will not stop until they [the victims] are rescued and the kidnappers brought to justice,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Detoyato as saying.
He added that the military would never negotiate with the suspects, or pay the ransom, as it would only embolden the bandits to carry out more kidnappings.
“We will endeavor to make this kidnapping business unprofitable,” he said.
The army has repeatedly assured the public that it is doing all it can to rescue the hostages, through continuing focused military operations in Western Mindanao that started last year.
Aside from the Canadian and Norwegian, among other remaining foreign hostages are a Dutch birdwatcher and four Malaysians believed to be held captive in the jungles of Sulu.
The group is also holding Filipinos.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf group -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.
By Hader Glang
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