By Hader Glang and Roy Ramos
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines
At least five Philippine troops have been killed in clashes with a Daesh-linked group as fighting resumed outside three towns in the Muslim south from which the military recently pushed back Abu Sayyaf militants.
Richard Falcatan, dxN0 radio station manager, told Anadolu Agency that three soldiers and two government militiamen were killed in two separate clashes Tuesday in the troubled island province of Basilan, where the military recently overran Abu Sayyaf encampments.
He quoted Governor Jim Hataman-Saliman as saying that three soldiers and a militiaman died in fighting in Tuburan town, where the Abu Sayyaf reportedly fled after government troops captured at least three of their hilltop strongholds in Tipo-Tipo town last week.
A second encounter broke out after Abu Sayyaf members reportedly fired on militiamen verifying reports on the presence of militants in Sumisip town, leaving a militia volunteer dead and three others wounded.
Meanwhile in the neighboring island province of Sulu, the Abu Sayyaf was blamed for a hand grenade attack on a Catholic convent in a dawn attack in which no casualties were reported.
Sen. Supt. Abraham Orbita, provincial police director, said in a statement that the incident -- which resulted in damage to the interior of Mt. Carmel Cathedral -- caused panic in the neighborhood.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.
The Abu Sayyaf is among two militant groups in the south who have pledged allegiance to Daesh, prompting fears during the stalling of a peace process between the government and the country's biggest Moro group that it could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.