Philippine forces have continued their pursuit of militants a day after bloody clashes broke out between government troops and Abu Sayyaf bandits on the southern island of Jolo.
The death toll rose to 14 on Sunday. Seven marines were reported killed in the first day of fighting on Saturday near the coastal town of Patikul. Two more Abu Sayyaf members were found dead, adding to the five casualties on their side. At least 15 soldiers were wounded in the gun battle.
Colonel Jose Joriel Cenabre, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, said dozens of militants had taken cover near a row of houses, according to the BBC.
“There were a lot of civilians near the enemy, so we couldn’t fire on them,” said Joemar Monte, one of the injured marines.
Brigadier General Domingo Tutaan said marine forces continued pursuit operations against the rebels, reports AFP.
The marines were hunting down the al Qaeda-linked extremists believed to be responsible for a spate of abductions of local residents in Sulu province, including a marine’s wife who was freed unharmed two days after she was seized, Tutaan said.
Abu Sayyaf is active in the southern region, where minority Muslims have been fighting for self-rule for decades. The group is on the US government’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.