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Philippines counter-terrorism soldiers killed in Jolo ‘firefight’

An attack on a special Philippine army counter-terrorism unit left three soldiers and two civilians dead and nine others wounded in the southern Philippines on Friday, June 28, military spokespeople and witnesses told AFP.

Unknown suspects targeted the unit’s temporary headquarters on the island of Jolo, a stronghold of Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf militants.

The blast blew the roof off the sentry gate of the military camp and blackened its concrete walls, according to photographs of the aftermath of the attack on local television.

“It was a bomb and a firefight,” army spokesperson Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP, adding the attackers’ identities were not immediately known.

“This attack is meant to disrupt the intensified security operations and our operational tempo following series of recent operational gains in the area,” Zagala later said in a statement.

An AFP reporter on the scene saw a blood-soaked man slumped on a tricycle on a street also stained with blood in front of the temporary headquarters of the army’s 1,500-member First Brigade Combat team.

Islamic State said fighters from its East Asia Province affiliate had blown themselves up inside a military camp in the village of Kajatian, claiming to have killed and wounded over 100 soldiers.

The Philippines has renewed its campaign against the militants in Jolo this year after at least one suspected suicide bomber attacked the island’s Roman Catholic cathedral, killing 21 people.

Three members of the military unit were killed and nine others were wounded, while two civilians – a motor tricycle driver and a woman street vendor – also died in the attack, army spokesman Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP.

Jolo and other remote areas of the southern Philippines are home to numerous armed groups including the Abu Sayyaf, which is notorious for kidnappings and bombings.

“We’re not discounting the possibility that it’s the handiwork of Abu Sayyaf Group,” Arcinas told reporters earlier.

Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014, and in July 2018 the group became part of the newly declared Islamic State East Asia province. Hapilon was killed in 2017.

The army deployed the specially trained unit in the Jolo town of Indanan four weeks ago.

In the same week, a Dutch birdwatcher held for years by the Abu Sayyaf was killed in Jolo during a firefight between his kidnappers and soldiers sent to rescue him.

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With reporting from AFP

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