ZAMBOANGA, Philippines – Suspected Al Qaeda-linked militants raided a village in the southern Philippines early Saturday, killing 11 people in the country's worst militant attack on civilians in nine years.
Gunmen believed to be members of the extremist Abu Sayyaf group and backed by other armed groups attacked the militia detachment in the center of the village of Tubigan on the island province of Basilan, said Lt. Steffani Cacho, spokeswoman for the military's Western Mindanao Command. One government-armed militiaman was killed as well as 10 civilians.
Basilan provincial police chief Antonio Mendoza said the gunmen strafed and torched several houses before escaping. He said 10 other villagers were wounded.
The attack came in the wake of the recent killing of an Abu Sayyaf commander and the arrest of two key members. Government forces had been told to be on alert for reprisal attacks.
It was the worst attack on civilians since 2001, when militants seized dozens of villagers and later beheaded nine farmers and shot to death another in Basilan's Lamitan township. There were no immediate details on how the 10 villagers were killed Saturday, Cacho said.
Mendoza said the attack came a day after security forces rescued two Chinese nationals in nearby Sumisip township. The two men were abducted by suspected militants from a plywood factory in Maluso in November. A Filipino worker who was seized along with them had been beheaded by the kidnappers.
Cacho said the army sent reinforcements to the village, but there were no other reports of additional casualties.
Basilan Island is close to the southern port city of Zamboanga, about 550 miles south of Manila. It is one of several islands where the Abu Sayyaf is active.
Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad — wanted for murder and kidnappings, including last year's abduction of three Red Cross workers — was killed last weekend during a raid on his camp on Jolo Island farther south of Basilan.
A day earlier, police captured Mujibar Alih Amon, an alleged Abu Sayyaf logistics officer who took part in the 2000 abduction of American Muslim convert Jeffrey Schilling, who later escaped, and 21 Western tourists and staff of a Malaysian resort earlier that year.
Last week, security forces captured Jumadali Arad, who was allegedly the operator of the speedboat used in the abduction of 20 hostages snatched from a southwestern resort in 2001. The hostages included three Americans, two of whom were later killed.
In the last six years of U.S.-backed counterterrorism strikes, Philippine security forces have killed or arrested more than 800 suspected militants, including 12 in February alone, said Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor.
The Abu Sayyaf, which is fighting to create an Islamic caliphate in the predominantly Christian nation, still has about 400 fighters. It is on the U.S.-list of terrorist organizations.