Abu Sayyaf attack in southern Philippines leaves 7 soldiers dead

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AFP) - Muslim extremists with links to the Al-Qaeda network killed seven soldiers and left 13 others wounded in an attack in the lawless southern Philippines on Thursday, the military said.

Members of the Abu Sayyaf group fired on the soldiers in the heavily forested island of Jolo shortly after dawn, killing an officer, a military statement said.

Ten minutes later, six more soldiers were killed and 13 were wounded when the Abu Sayyaf fighters launched a mortar shell at them, the statement added.

"The remaining troops are still in the area of operations while the casualties were evacuated," the statement said.

The attack comes after the Abu Sayyaf suffered a series of setbacks including the capture in Manila last week of one of their leaders, Khair Mundos, who is on the US government's list of "most wanted" terror suspects.

Days later, two followers of Mundos were also arrested.

The military would not say why the troops were in the rural town of Patikul, a known Abu Sayyaf hotbed, about 945 kilometres south of Manila.

The group, founded in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, is blamed for the worst terrorist attacks in the Philippines' recent history.

This includes bombings and kidnappings for ransom, mostly targeting foreigners and Christians.

Several hostages are still believed to be held by the Abu Sayyaf in the jungles of Jolo.

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