43 Killed in Clash with al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf

Military officials say 23 soldiers and at least 20 suspected terrorists have been killed in the southern Philippines after government troops stormed training camps of the Islamists militants Abu Sayyaf.

More than 400 soldiers and police commandos launched pre-dawn attacks Wednesday against jungle camps on Basilan, an island province in the southern Philippines, The New York Times reports.

Security sources have told Al Jazeera that fighters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front were drawn into the latest clashes.

The fighting comes after more than 400 marines, army and police commandos launched simultaneous, pre-dawn attacks on Abu Sayyaf jungle encampments.

The Abu Sayyaf, suspected by intelligence agencies of having links to al-Qaeda, is listed as a terrorist group by the Philippine and US governments.

"We launched a decisive law enforcement operation targeting the Abu Sayyaf's main training base on Basilan, but we were met by heavy resistance," Brigadier-General Rustico Guerrero told reporters, Aljazeera.net reports.

Reports said the bandits were headed by Khair Mundus and Furuji Indama, although there were no information that the two were among the fatalities.

The United States government is offering up to $500,000 reward for anyone who could provide information leading to the arrest of Mundus, who escaped in 2007 from the provincial jail of North Cotabato in Kidapawan City, GMA news.tv reports.

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