Eight militants of Al-Qaeda-linked group killed in clashes with Philippines security forces

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AFP) - Eight members of an Al-Qaeda-linked group of Philippine militants have been killed in clashes with security forces in the country's south, the military said on Saturday.

Thirteen members of a counter-terrorism task force were also wounded in the fighting with the Abu Sayyaf group on the remote island of Jolo on Friday, said the government unit's spokesman Ensign Chester Ramos.

He said the eight Abu Sayyaf dead were followers of Radullan Sahiron, a one-armed militant who has a US$1 million (S$1.35 million) bounty on his head put up by the United States government, which considers the group a "foreign terrorist organisation".

Mr Ramos said Sahiron's group of about 100 gunmen had been skirmishing with the counter-terrorist task force around the Jolo town of Patikul over the past week, during which six other soldiers were earlier wounded.

The Abu Sayyaf, set up with seed funds from Al-Qaeda in the early 1990s, has been blamed for many of the deadliest militant attacks in the Philippines, including the 2004 firebombing of a ferry on Manila Bay that claimed more than 100 lives.

The group, mainly based in the Muslim-populated areas of the southern Philippines, has also been involved in high-profile kidnappings of foreign tourists and Christian missionaries.

Another key leader of the group of several hundred militants posted video footage of himself and other gunmen last year pledging allegiance to Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq.

US military advisers have been providing training and intelligence inputs on Jolo and nearby areas since 2002 to Filipino troops fighting the Abu Sayyaf.

The latest violence comes after 44 police commandos were killed by other Muslim guerrilla groups in another area of the southern Philippines last month while on a mission to catch two top militants, Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir and Filipino Abdul Basit Usman.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation reported earlier this week that samples collected by the Filipino forces from one of the dead bodies in the fighting matched those of a relative of Zulkifli.