MANILA, Aug. 26 (UPI) — At least six Abu Sayyaf members, including a commander, were killed and 17 Filipino soldiers were injured in the first clash between forces since President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the militant group destroyed after an 18-year-old hostage was beheaded.
Among those killed in a 45-minute firefight in Patikul, located in the province of Sulu, was Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Mohammad Said, who had five outstanding arrest warrants for murder. Said is thought to have been involved in the kidnapping of three people from a hotel last year. The group beheaded two of the Canadian hostages, John Risdell and Robert Hall, after ransom demands were not met.
Duterte called for the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf to be “destroyed” after militants beheaded 18-year-old Patrick Almodovar. His head was found wrapped in plastic after his family did not provide ransom money.
The group is holding at least 12 other hostages, including Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad. Thursday, Duterte said a ransom was paid for Sekkingstad’s freedom, but refused to elaborate. He later said the money came from “maybe my bank.” The Philippine government has a policy of not paying ransom.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella later walked back the comments, saying a private group paid an unspecified ransom.
Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo M. Dela Cruz, the commander of Western Mindanao Command, said there is a push to eradicate the group, as per Duterte’s orders.
“The commander in chief gave a specific order. The mission is clear. Seek and destroy. By any means. That’s what we are doing and we will not stop until it’s done,” he said.