ZAMBOANGA, Philippines – Army troops captured a jungle encampment of al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf gunmen and killed five militants in a gunbattle that also left two soldiers dead in the southern Philippines, officials said Sunday.
Among the militants reportedly killed in Saturday's clash near mountainous Sumisip town on Basilan island was Juhaiber Alamsirul, a close aide of Abu Sayyaf commander Nurhassan Jamiri, who has been blamed for beheadings and kidnappings, regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said.
Two army scout rangers were killed and five others were wounded in the three-hour clash involving about 30 militants near the village of Baiwas. Troops captured an Abu Sayyaf encampment, where they found bunkers, a hand-held radio and rebel belongings, Cabangbang said.
Troops have been searching for Jamiri, who was reportedly wounded in a Basilan clash last month, he said.
Jamiri has been blamed for the 2007 beheadings of 10 marines in Basilan, as well as several kidnappings for ransom and bomb attacks in the impoverished Muslim province, about 550 miles (880 kilometers) south of Manila.
In a separate Basilan assault last week, troops killed Suhod Tanadjalan, a founding Abu Sayyaf member who was on a U.S. list of wanted terrorists. Tanadjalan had laid down his rifle to prepare to pray when troops attacked his group near Basilan's Tuburan town, Basilan Vice Governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Washington was offering a $15,000 reward for the capture of Tanadjalan, who has been accused of involvement in killings and kidnappings, including of two American missionaries and a tourist in 2001.
The Abu Sayyaf, notorious for ransom kidnappings, bombings and beheadings, has been included on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. Although the group has been considerably weakened by battle casualties and surrenders, the militants still number more than 300 and remain a national security threat, according to the military.