MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine troops on Thursday clashed with Muslim militants and disrupted a fresh bombing plot, the military said, after two weeks of bomb attacks across the volatile southern region killed 16 people and wounded about 100.
Troops in Basilan island province engaged about 70 fighters from the Abu Sayyaf group, notorious for terrorist attacks and ransom kidnappings, in a clash that killed one soldier and an estimated seven militants, said local army commander Col. Carlito Galvez. He said the operation was based on information that the militants were manufacturing bombs to be used in attacks in southern cities at the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
The three-day religious festivities of Eid al-Fitr, which mark the end of the Muslim fasting month, began Thursday.
“We conducted the operation so we can pre-empt them,” Galvez said following the fighting.
He said that the main intention was to seize improvised explosives that he said the militants were plotting to use in Basilan and nearby Zamboanga city.
Government troops were placed on heightened alert, increasing their visibility and inspections of people acting suspiciously, said Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
Thursday’s fighting came on the heels of a bombing spree that has caused tensions in the southern Philippines, where minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation have been fighting for self-rule for decades. The government last year signed a road map to peace with the main insurgent group.
Officials have blamed a little-known al-Qaida-inspired group for a July 26 bombing at a crowded bar in a mall in Cagayan de Oro city that killed eight people. They say the other bombings could be attributed to terrorism or personal feuds. Similar attacks have been carried out by militants opposed to the peace deal with the government, particularly a breakaway rebel group called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement.
That group claimed responsibility for a bomb attack Wednesday that wounded seven soldiers. The group’s spokesman, Abu Misri Mammah, said his group would continue attacks against government forces.