Manila, Apr 18 (efe-epa).- Eleven Filipino soldiers have been killed and 14 wounded in a firefight with members of the Abu Sayyaf group loyal to the Islamic State (IS) in the province of Sulu, southern Philippines.
“We condemn (the attack) in the strongest possible terms,” ??presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement Saturday about the incident in the town of Patikul on Friday.
According to Roque, there was also an incident between the army and Abu Sayyaf militia on Thursday, when three other soldiers were wounded.
“The enemies of the State choose no date and occasion. They strike even during this time of great pandemic,” Roque said. “But let this serve as a warning to all: Our authorities remain ready and prepared to crush the enemies of the government and quell any armed attack amid the existing state of calamity and public health emergency.”
Founded in 1991 by veterans of the Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union, Abu Sayyaf is now the strongest jihadist group in Southeast Asia, and gained international notoriety in 2016 when it beheaded two Canadians after failing to receive a ransom payment.
In 2014, it swore allegiance to the IS, and since the fall of the caliphate, many foreign fighters who fled from Syria and Iraq found refuge with them in the Sulu archipelago – the most remote island province of the Philippines – which is the last stronghold of Abu Sayyaf and maintains some 300 troops.
The arrival of foreign terrorists in the Philippines has involved the importation of new forms of more extreme violence, such as lone wolves and suicide bombings, a modus operandi that was not previously common among local groups.
Since August 2018, the Philippines has suffered four suicide attacks, all claimed by the IS and, except one, perpetrated by foreigners on the islands of Sulu and Basilan.
On Jan. 27, 2019, a twin bombing at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo town in Sulu killed 20 people and injured 102 others.
Other loyal IS jihadist groups also operate in Muslim Mindanao, such as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Ansar Khalifa Philippines and the Maute group.
On May 23, 2017, terrorists belonging to the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf occupied Marawi City, triggering a five-month armed conflict that resulted in over 1,000 deaths and left the city in ruins. EFE-EPA