At least seven Filipino marines and five Abu Sayyaf militants died in a firefight Saturday near the costal town of Patikul on the island of Jolo, military officials say.
Nine more marines and about 10 Abu Sayyaf militants were injured in the fight, launched by the military to target the al Qaeda-linked militants thought responsible for recent kidnappings and the attempted sabotage of a southern Philippine road project.
Abu Sayyaf, considered a terrorist group by Manila and the US government, is suspected of deadly terror attacks in the Philippines, including the 2004 ferry bombing in Manila Bay that killed more than 100 people.
The troops Saturday were pursuing the militants and their leader Julaswan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf commander suspected of kidnapping a Jordanian journalist and two European tourists. All three are still in captivity.
Recently, Abu Sayyaf - a small but radical group of about 400 militants - has been blamed for the kidnapping of a Filipino marine’s wife, and the abduction of two government employees who were freed last week. It's unclear if a ransom had been paid.
In recent years, United States supported military offensives against Abu Sayyaf have crippled the group, though its members remain a national security threat.