Militants attack soldiers in southern Philippines, leaving 2 children dead

MANILA (NYTIMES) - Militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacked a group of soldiers on the southern Philippine island of Jolo, setting off a clash that left two children dead, the military said on Sunday (May 26).

Six militants from the insurgent group, known as Abu Sayyaf, were also killed in a gun battle last Saturday in a remote village near the town of Patikul, in Sulu province, the military said. Five soldiers and two civilians were wounded.

The soldiers had been sent to the area, where local Islamist insurgencies have long battled the state, to discuss development projects with village elders. While those discussions were underway, they were attacked by about 30 Abu Sayyaf militants.

Captain Jaime Abibas of the Philippine army's special forces unit said the troops had held off the militants and tried to protect villagers who were caught in the crossfire.

He said the civilians had told him: "Please help us, the Abu Sayyaf will kill us and raze our village if they are allowed to enter."

The two children who were killed were identified as Jahida Usab, 12, and Saiful Abdun, one.

Brigadier General Divino Rey Pabayo Jr, commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, said the militants were trying to keep the government from establishing a stronger presence in the area.

"The death of the two innocent children and the wounding of other civilians are indicative of the ASG's desperate actions of sowing fear among the local populace," he said, using an abbreviation for Abu Sayyaf Group.

The weekend battle on the predominantly Muslim island of Jolo, which took place during the holy month of Ramadan, came five months after an Abu Sayyaf faction bombed a cathedral in Jolo, the capital of Sulu province, killing 23 people and wounding about 100.

The church had been a frequent target of militants, some of whom have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

President Rodrigo Duterte deployed additional forces in the region to search for the perpetrators of the church attack, for which officials blamed an Abu Sayyaf leader, Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan.

The military said that the attack last Saturday was not unexpected, because soldiers had been pursuing Sawadjaan's fighters in the area.

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