Police and soldiers take position as they engage with the Abu Sayyaf group in the village of Napo, Inabanga town. Image Credit: AFP

Manila: Three armymen, one policeman and 11 members of the Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf group, were reportedly killed in clashes in Bohol, central Philippines, on Tuesday.

Members of the 47th Infantry Battalion, Bohol Provincial Police Office (BPPO), the Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB) and the regional Philippine National Police (PNP) clashed with members of the Abu Sayyaf group at So Ilaya, Napo Village, Inabanga mountain town in Bohol province, at 3 early in the morning, according to Senior Police Officer Edwin Melicor of Inabanga Police Station, in a report that reached PNP headquarters in Metro Manila’s suburban Quezon City.

Abu Sayyaf group has been waging a terror and kidnap-for-ransom campaign for the last 19-years, but mostly in southern Philippines on the island of Mindanao.

Residents' tip-off

The Bohol incident is one of a few attempts by Abu Sayyaf group to carry out a bold snatch-cart-away attack in central Philippines.

Residents reported to the police on Monday the presence of 10 armed men on board three strange-looking pump boats (an outrigger canoe) along the river of So Ilaya, Melicor said.

Emerging from their boats, the armed men occupied three houses near the river where they remained trapped, said PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa.

Bodies recovered

Soldiers and policemen recovered 11 bodies of the group during a little lull in the firefight, said Dela Rosa, adding that four high-powered firearms, including three M16s and one M15 and a sack with improvised explosive devices were seized from them.

There is no clearing operation yet, dela Rosa said.

Additional forces from the Army, Air Force and the Navy were sent at the national highway away from where the military and policemen have been engaged in a firefight with the Abu Sayyaf at So Ilaya since 3am on Tuesday, said Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen Eduardo Año.

“Clashes are ongoing,” Inabanga Mayor Roygie Jumamoy said.

Several conflicting intelligence reports said that Abu Sayyaf members were seen at So Ilaya’s river at 10 Monday morning.

Another report claimed that southern Zambales del Norte-based Abu Sayyaf subleader Abu Rami arrived at Inabanga town around 5pm Monday.

Embassy warnings

In a statement on its website on Sunday, the US Embassy warned it has “received unsubstantiated yet credible information that terrorist groups may attempt to conduct kidnappings in Central Visayas, which includes both Cebu and Bohol provinces”.

The Australian Embassy issued a similar warning on Monday.

At the time, Police chief De La Rosa assured So Ilaya’s residents, “Don’t be afraid. I am giving assurance that the police force in central Visayas is ready [to protect everyone there].”