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Muslim Extremist Killed on Island

June 16, 2002

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ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) _ At least one Muslim extremist guerrilla was killed and four soldiers were wounded in a clash on a southern Philippine island Sunday, a Philippine army commander said.

Philippine elite troops encountered about 30 members of the extremist Abu Sayyaf group outside a town on Basilan at midday. The gunbattle lasted for about two hours before the guerrillas escaped into the jungle, leaving one body behind, Col. Alexander Aleo said.

The Abu Sayyaf held a U.S. missionary couple and a Filipino nurse hostage for more than a year, much of it on Basilan, before a clash two weeks ago in nearby Zamboanga del Norte province that led to the rescue of the American woman, Gracia Burnham, and the deaths of her husband, Martin Burnham, and the nurse, Ediborah Yap.

Aleo said troops on Basilan were pursuing the guerrillas they fought in Sunday’s clash and watching for the return of those who escaped after the Zamboanga del Norte operation. ``There is a probability that they would return″ to their island base on Basilan, he said.

About 1,000 U.S. troops are involved in a counterterrorism exercise in the southern Philippines to help Filipino soldiers wipe out the Abu Sayyaf. They include 160 Special Forces trainers with Philippine military battalions on Basilan and 340 engineers working on infrastructure projects.

Aleo said U.S. troops would not be involved in airlifting the wounded soldiers off Basilan, as they have been following previous clashes.

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