Philippines clash kills 18 soldiers


The Philippines military says 18 soldiers have been killed in fierce fighting with Islamist militants in the south of the country.

It says more than 50 other soldiers were wounded on Saturday during the clashes with members of the Abu Sayyaf group on Basilan island.

Five militants, including a Moroccan national, were killed, the army said.

The army was reportedly targeting an Abu Sayyaf commander who has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

The US government has offered a reward of up to $5m (£3.5m) for information leading to the capture of Isnilon Hapilon.

The Islamic State threat in South East Asia

At least four of the soldiers were beheaded in the clashes with about 100 Abu Sayyaf militants, AFP quoted a regional military spokesman as saying.

Many of the militants were armed with grenade launchers, AP reported.

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The fighting came a day after Abu Sayyaf released retired Italian priest Rolando Del Torchio

Major Filemon Tan told journalists that government forces had moved against Abu Sayyaf after a series of abductions of foreigners.

On Friday a retired Italian priest being held hostage by the group was released after six months in captivity.

Eighteen other foreign hostages including two Canadians and a Norwegian are being held in the Philippines.

Almost all are thought to be in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf group in encampments on Jolo island, near Basilan island.

The Abu Sayyaf group was set up in the early 1990s with money from al-Qaeda.

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Abu Sayyaf has a history of kidnapping tourists for ransom

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