MANILA, Philippines—Philippine troops killed 26 Abu Sayyaf gunmen and possibly a Malaysian militant in a week-long counter-terrorism offensive in the south that ended Sunday with the capture of a major jungle training camp where bombs and bomb-making components were found, an army commander said.
Three soldiers were killed in the assaults that involved about 600 army, marines, navy and air force personnel against the brutal group in the jungles near Al-Barka municipality on the island province of Basilan, army Col. Rolando Joselito Bautista said.
The military has received intelligence reports that the Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf faction led by Isnilon Hapilon and Puruji Indama was planning with a number of Malaysian militants to organize a new insurgent group that would be supportive of Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq, Bautista said.
Concerns grew over reports that the Abu Sayyaf gunmen have been carrying out bomb-making training and manufacturing bombs in the encampment with the help of Malaysian militants, prompting the military to launch an offensive, he said.
“We’ve been receiving reports of the presence in this camp of foreign terrorists and high-value targets,” Bautista said by telephone.
Among the militants who were reported killed in the military assaults was a Malaysian who was identified only by his nom de guerre, Abu Anas. The military is trying to confirm his death, Bautista said.
While government forces were inspecting the captured Abu Sayyaf camp, one of five bombs placed around the area exploded at dawn Sunday, wounding 12 soldiers, Bautista said. Troops found bomb-making components in other parts of the encampment, he added.
The encampment had bunkers and could shelter more than 200 militants, regional military spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan said.
Isnilon is among a few Muslim militant commanders in the southern Philippines who have made a public oath of loyalty to IS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Philippine security officials, however, say they have found no evidence of an active collaboration between Filipino militants and the Islamic State group.
Three bombs placed by Abu Sayyaf militants, meanwhile, successively exploded Sunday near an abandoned military detachment on Jolo island near Basilan but failed to cause any injuries, army Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado said.
The militants apparently targeted a military convoy but its passage in the area was delayed, Arrojado said.
The United States and the Philippines have separately blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for deadly bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings.
U.S.-backed Philippine military offensives have weakened the Abu Sayyaf, but it has survived and remains a security threat. It’s one of at least four small insurgent groups in the south outside of a peace deal the government signed last year with the largest rebel group, the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front.