MANILA, March 5 (Xinhua) -- The Philippine military said on Sunday that its troops killed at least four Abu Sayyaf militants in the latest fierce fighting in Sulu, an island province in the southern Philippines.
The military said in a statement that troops encountered with a group of Abu Sayyaf bandits around 4:30 a.m. Sunday after the military deployed marines to the area.
"Heavy fire fighting erupted shortly after the marines arrived in the area about 4:30 (Sunday) morning," the statement read.
After scouring the site of the encounter, the statement said that marines found four bodies of the Abu Sayyaf members and recovered seven high-powered firearms, including two M-16 assault rifles and two M-203 grenade launchers.
As of press time, the military said that "skirmishes are still ongoing" as the marines continued its pursuit operations to capture the fleeing bandits.
Sunday's encounter broke out a day after the military found the body of German hostage Juergen Gustav Kantner who was beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf last Sunday.
Kantner had been held captive by the Abu Sayyaf for almost four months in the jungles of Indanan, Sulu.
During the search and retrieval operations, Col. Cirilito Sobejana of the Joint Task Force Sulu said that about 24 soldiers were wounded during the series of encounters that had also left 16 Abu Sayyaf militants killed and six others wounded in the past several days.
He also said that four Abu Sayyaf members were arrested.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the military to launch an all-out offensive against the estimated 500 Abu Sayyaf bandits operating mostly in the hinterlands of southern Philippine provinces of Sulu and Basilan.
The Abu Sayyaf group has been carrying out kidnapping for ransom, bombings and robberies in the southern Philippine region since late 1990s.