Fifteen killed as soldiers, insurgents clash in Philippines

MANILA (AFP) - Fifteen people were killed in heavy fighting between government forces and Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the southern Philippine jungle on Friday, the military said.

Close to 100 ground troops with helicopter support engaged some 300 Abu Sayyaf insurgents in Talipao town on Sulu, said Colonel Allan Arrojado, the army commander on the island.

Six soldiers and nine Abu Sayyaf fighters were killed, said Captain Rowena Muyuela, a military spokeswoman in the region.

"This is a major encounter. We are tracking the Abu Sayyaf's whereabouts and pursuing them," Arrojado said, without providing further details.

Set up in the 1990s with seed money from Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, the Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in the Philippines' history including bombings and mass kidnappings of Christians and foreigners.

The military has intensified pursuit operations against the group after it ransomed off two German hostages in October.

The group claimed it received US$5.7 million (S$7.4 million) for the pair.

Labelled as terrorists by the United States and Philippine governments, the Abu Sayyaf recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in a series of videos posted on YouTube.

The Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding at least 13 other hostages, including five foreigners, according the Philippine military.

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