SULU, Philippines, 2 May 2008 — Government soldiers shot and wounded a leader of the Abu Sayyaf group and killed in his son in fierce clashes in the southern Filipino province of Sulu, officials said yesterday.
Officials said Isnilon Hapilon, both wanted by the Philippine and the United States on terrorism and kidnapping charges, managed to escape pursuing troops, but his son Tabari was killed in the town of Indanan on Wednesday.
One soldier was also killed in the fighting that displaced more than a thousand Muslim villagers.
“Isnilon is wounded and is being pursued by security forces,” said Army Maj. Eugene Batara, spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command.
Clashes subsided late Wednesday after gunmen retreated deeper into the jungle and troops occupied an area said to be a bomb factory abandoned by the Abu Sayyaf.
Hapilon is one the country’s most wanted terrorist and is facing a string of criminal charges, including the kidnapping of three US citizens in 2001. Two of the hostages were later executed, one of them beheaded and the mutilated body fed to wild animals in the jungle of Basilan island.
Former fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front said they were attacked by troops, shelling a major base in Indanan town. But Sulu military chief Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban said soldiers were fighting the Abu Sayyaf and not the MNLF.
“We are targeting the Abu Sayyaf and not the MNLF,” he said.
Marines Commandant Gen. Mohammad Dolorfino flew to Sulu yesterday and met with Gov. Sakur Tan about the fighting. Tan said the fighting is affecting the peace and order in Sulu.
“We don’t want any fighting in Sulu, especially at this time that many visitors are coming over and looking into prospects of investing in the province. Our tourism efforts and also affected by this conflict,” he said.