Philippine soldier killed in jungle battle with Muslim extremists

Fresh fighting broke out between Philippine troops and al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf rebels in the jungles of southern Jolo island, leaving at least one soldier dead, the military said Wednesday. Soldiers encountered around 100 Abu Sayyaf guerrillas in their mountain stronghold of Indanan late Tuesday, triggering a gunfight that fatally wounded one soldier, said southern military spokesman Col. Domingo Tutaan.

Fighting resumed Wednesday, but there were sketchy reports and no immediate details about casualties, Tutaan said.

"They encountered a big group of Abu Sayyaf in the rebels' holdout area," Tutaan said by telephone. "Fighting broke out again today in the same area."

The latest clashes brought to five the number of soldiers killed since the military launched an offensive to drive out guerrillas on Nov. 11. At least 24 others have been wounded.

Military commanders say they believe dozens of Abu Sayyaf gunmen have been killed or wounded, but no bodies have been recovered. The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for numerous bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. It is believed to be allied with the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah, which has been accused over the Bali bombings in 2002 and last month.

U.S. military counterterrorism training and equipment have been credited with the capture and deaths of dozens of Abu Sayyaf members and commanders, reports the AP. I.L.

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