At least eight killed in militant attack on Philippine resort island

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 2:43pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 April, 2017, 9:44pm

At least eight people were killed on Tuesday in clashes with 10 suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf kidnap group on the resort island of Bohol, authorities said.

Military officials said at least five gunmen, two soldiers and a policeman had died in the ongoing gunbattle in a village in the coastal town of Inabanga.

The incursion would be the first on a major Philippine tourist destination in recent years by the Abu Sayyaf, which has long engaged in kidnappings for ransom – often targeting foreigners in the lawless southern Philippines.

Bohol is about an hour away by boat from Cebu province, a bustling commercial and tourism hub in the region.

National police chief Ronald dela Rosa says troops and policemen attacked the gunmen early on Tuesday in Inabanga, where the gunmen took cover in three houses.

“If we were not able to monitor this and engage them with our government forces, it’s a cause for alarm if they were able to carry out kidnappings,” dela Rosa said.

Military chief of staff General Eduardo Ano said military intelligence operatives had been trying to track down the movements of the suspected militants, who first travelled from Sulu to southern Zamboanga peninsula. Intelligence later indicated the gunmen landed ashore in Inabanga, prompting military and police officials to deploy their forces, he said.

The gunmen travelled in motor boats along a river to Inabanga’s Napo village, where government forces assaulted them, military spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo said, adding that troops recovered four rifles and a home-made bomb from the slain gunmen.

The US and Australian embassies warned their citizens this week about possible kidnappings by “terrorist groups” in the central Philippines.

Bohol is a major tourist destination, where foreign tourists swim with whale sharks and marvel at tiny primates called tarsiers, go on cruises aboard boats on crystal-clear rivers and lounge at white sand beaches.

“Residents told us the gunmen could have been Muslims because they were aboard boats that are used only in Mindanao,” Inabanga police officer Edwin Melicor said, referring to a Muslim-populated southern area.

The Abu Sayyaf, also blamed for deadly bombings, has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State movement that holds large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Over the past year the Abu Sayyaf has been expanding its activities, boarding commercial and fishing vessels off their southern island stronghold of Jolo, near Malaysia, and abducting dozens of foreign crew members.

They beheaded a German tourist earlier this year and two Canadian tourists last year, all three of them having been seized at sea.

Additional reporting by Associated Press