Clashes with Abu Sayyaf raise tourism concerns

CEBU. Police Regional Office-Central Visayas Director Noli TaliƱo answers some questions during a press conference at the PRO headquarters in Cebu City Wednesday

Three government soldiers and a police officer died in the fighting, which also saw the killing of Moammar Askali, a rebel commander who had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State and was believed to have been involved in the high-profile beheadings of two Canadian and a German hostage.

Philippine troops say they have killed the terrorist guerilla who beheaded Canadian hostages John Risdel and Robert Hall previous year.

Sporadic gunbattles between the remaining Abu Sayyaf militants and government forces continued today, military officials said.

"The Abu Sayyaf must think twice, our security forces (are) working... effectively as they thwarted their plans to sow terror in the area", he said.

The U.S. Embassy in the Philippines issued a warning last week that it had received "unsubstantiated yet credible information" that terrorist groups may attempt kidnappings in Bohol and Cebu provinces.

It was Abu Sayyaf's first known attempt to carry out ransom kidnappings deep in the central Philippine heartland, far from the group's jungle lairs in the southern provinces of Sulu and Basilan.

Bohol, which is popular with tourists, lies about 640km southeast of Manila, and about an hour away by boat from Cebu province, across the busy Cebu Strait.

Philippine intelligence agencies got wind of the plot last week, and alerted the military and foreign counterpart agencies, though authorities lost track of the gunmen in the open seas.

The gunmen traveled on motorboats along a river into a village in Bohol's Inabanga town where government forces assaulted them, military officials said, adding that troops recovered four rifles, a homemade bomb and a sack load of bomb-making materials from the slain gunmen.

Two Canadians and a Norwegian were kidnapped at an upscale resort on Samal island, Davao province, in September 2015, and a German off Sabah, Malaysia, in November previous year. In 2001, they sailed as far as western Palawan province, where they seized 20 people, including three Americans, from a resort, two of whom were later killed.

The group has beheaded two Canadian tourists and a German yachtman since past year, and ransomed off sailors reportedly for large sums of money.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was forced to apologize to Germany for failing to save the victim while insisting that the 30 million pesos ($600,000, 565,000 euros) should not be paid.

The militants are still holding at least 29 captives in Sulu's jungles.

Associated Press writer Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.

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