5 killed in Philippine army clash with Muslim militants, including kidnappers of 2 Americans


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MANILA, Philippines — Philippine troops attacked a Muslim militant hideout on southern Basilan island, triggering a clash that killed three Abu Sayyaf members believed to have been involved in the 2011 kidnapping of an American woman and her teenage son, a military report said Friday. Two government militiamen were killed and two others were wounded.

The report said the operation Thursday in Ungkaya Pukan township targeted Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Sulaiman Ajanti, who was allegedly behind atrocities in Basilan and Zamboanga City including the kidnapping of Gerfa Yeatts Lunsmann and her then 14-year-old son. The Philippine-born woman adopted as a child by an American couple was released after 2 ½ months in captivity. Her son escaped after five months.

Ajanti and two of his followers were killed in the clash and five militants were wounded, the report said.

The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 300 armed fighters split into several factions, was organized in the early 1990s in the south and vowed to wage jihad, or holy war, but the early combat deaths of its key commanders sent the group on a path of criminality. It has been crippled by government operations but endures largely due to ransoms received from kidnappings.

The militant group now holds about 10 hostages, including two German tourists seized in April and two birdwatchers, one Dutch and the other Swiss, who were kidnapped two years ago.

Malaysia, meanwhile, has imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in waters near six districts in Sabah state on Borneo Island where Abu Sayyaf gunmen from the southern Philippines have staged nighttime kidnappings, mostly of Chinese tourists and traders, in recent months.

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