Nine people killed in gunbattle in Inabanga
Militants’ reach continues to grow
MANILA, PHILIPPINES | At least nine people were killed Tuesday in a gunbattle between Philippine forces and suspected Abu Sayyaf militants on a central resort island, far from the extremists’ southern jungle bases and in a region where the U.S. government has warned that the gunmen may be plotting kidnappings, officials said.
Military officials said at least five gunmen, three soldiers and a policeman had died in the ongoing gunbattle in a village in the coastal town of Inabanga in Bohol province. The island province is known for its beach resorts and wildlife and lies near Cebu province, a bustling commercial and tourism hub.
Sporadic firefights continued by nightfall in Inabanga’s Napo village and two outlying villages, where residents have fled to safety. Commando troops flew to Bohol to reinforce government forces, officials said.
National police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said troops and policemen attacked the gunmen early Tuesday in Inabanga, where the gunmen had arrived aboard three boats. The gunmen took cover in three houses as the firefight broke out.
Government forces seized control of two of the houses, and the rest of the gunmen either were in the third house or had fled the area, Gen. dela Rosa told reporters.
If it is proven that the gunmen were from the Abu Sayyaf, it may be the group’s first known attempt to carry out ransom kidnappings deep in the heartland of the central Philippines, far from its jungle lairs in the southern provinces of Sulu and Basilan.
Bohol island, where one of the world’s smallest primates, called tarsiers, are found, drawing many tourists, lies about 397 miles southeast of Manila. Bohol is about an hour away by boat from Cebu province, across the busy Cebu Strait, which is crisscrossed daily by ferries, cargo ships and fishing vessels.
Abu Sayyaf militants have crossed the sea border with Malaysia on powerful speedboats and kidnapped scores of foreign tourists in past years. In 2001, they sailed as far as western Palawan province, where they seized 20 people, including three Americans, from a resort.
“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,” Gen. dela Rosa said.