18 soldiers dead, 5 Abu Sayyaf bandits killed in Basilan encounter

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Zamboanga City (CNN Philippines) — The Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom) says at least 18 soldiers and five bandits were killed during a clash between government troops and the Abu Sayyaf (ASG) on Saturday (April 9) in Tipo-Tipo, Basilan.

Read: "Who are the Abu Sayyaf?"

In a press briefing on Sunday morning (April 10), WesMinCom spokesperson Maj. Filemon Tan said more than 50 other soldiers were wounded in the nearly 10-hour gunbattle that resulted in one of the biggest casualties suffered by government forces in a single day in recent years.

A similar encounter in Al Barka, also in Basilan, in 2011 left 19 government troops dead.

Tan said five ASG fighters were killed, including a suspected foreign terrorist, Moroccan national Mohammad Khattab, and Ubaida Hapilon, the son of Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon.

In a statement, the WesMinCom described Khattab as an IED bomb instructor and jihadist preacher who was trying link local lawless armed groups and kidnap-for-ransom groups with international terrorist organizations.

It estimates 20 Abu Sayyaf extremists were injured during the clash, including senior leader Radzmil Jannatul.

"Soldiers of Joint Task Group Basilan conducting military operations in Basilan province encountered more or less 120 Abu Sayyaf bandits under Isnilon Hapilon and Furuji Indama."

According to Tan, the soldiers were attacked at around 8 a.m. in Sitio Bayoko, Baguindan. An intense firefight ensued between the ASG and soldiers from the 44th Infantry Battalion, the 4th Special Forces Battalion, and 14 Cavalry troops.

The clash occurred on the same day the country observed Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor), which honors those who served the country in times of war or peace.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Hernando Irriberi flew to the Western Mindanao Command Headquarters in Zamboanga City to check the situation.

"Military Operations will continue without let up as we seek the withdrawing bandits and hold them accountable for their crimes," WesMinCom said.

CNN Philippines' Gerg Cahiles and Zamboanga City-based journalist Liza Jocson contributed to this report.