MANILA (AFP) - Philippine security officials killed six members of militant group Abu Sayyaf on Friday including one involved in the kidnapping of two Canadians who were beheaded in the troubled south, the military said.
A military spokesman said soldiers clashed with 100 members of notorious kidnap-for-ransom gang Abu Sayyaf as troops carried out President Rodrigo Duterte's orders to "destroy" the militants.
In April and June, the group beheaded two Canadian tourists after ransom demands were not met. They were among four people kidnapped from the southern resort island of Samal last September.
"We were able to recover (the six militants') bodies. One of them is a sub-group leader of the Abu Sayyaf who was involved in the Samal kidnapping," regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan told AFP.
Tan said 17 soldiers were wounded in the encounter as the military aims to track hostages including a Norwegian who was kidnapped with the Canadians along with a Filipina who was released in June.
The Abu Sayyaf is still holding a Dutch birdwatcher abducted in 2012 and Indonesian sailors kidnapped from the high seas in recent months, said Tan.
Duterte, who took office on June 30, initially pleaded for peace with the Abu Sayyaf but has since hardened his stance after the group continued kidnapping and beheading hostages.
The military said Wednesday the Abu Sayyaf beheaded a 19-year-old Filipino captive after a ransom demand was not met. Police recovered his head in Sulu.
Responding to the incident, Duterte vowed on Thursday to annihilate the group.
"My order to the police and to the armed forces: seek them out in their lairs and destroy them." Similar demands from previous Philippine leaders went unfulfilled.
The Abu Sayyaf is a loose network of a few hundred Islamic militants formed in the 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network and has earned millions of dollars from kidnappings-for-ransom.
Its leaders have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group but analysts say they are mainly focused on lucrative kidnappings.