2 slain as troops seek kidnapped sisters

Posted at 06/28/13 6:59 PM

ZAMBOANGA - Soldiers killed two Islamic extremists and wounded five others in the southern Philippines as government forces continued searching for two kidnapped filmmaker sisters, a military official said Friday.

Members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group opened fire on a military helicopter in the southern island of Jolo on Thursday, prompting the armed forces to counter-attack, said local Marine commander Colonel Jose Cenabre.

"The aerial attack was launched immediately on the area which led to the two killed," followed by a ground assault, he said.

He said there had been no sightings of Linda Bansil, 35 and her sister, Nadjoua, 39, who were seized in the area of the attack on Saturday while working on a film about Jolo's impoverished Muslim coffee farmers.

The abduction shocked local residents, with the Muslim sisters active in human rights advocacy and having worked on films showcasing the plight of the Muslim minority in the largely-Christian Philippines.

The Abu Sayyaf is an extremist group founded with seed money from Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. The US government has officially designated it a terrorist organisation.

It has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history as well as many kidnappings of foreigners and Filipinos, often demanding hefty ransoms for their hostages.

Other Abu Sayyaf factions are believed to be holding hostages, including two European bird watchers.

In March, Abu Sayyaf militants released Australian Warren Rodwell after holding him for 15 months. An undisclosed ransom was paid to win his freedom.

US troops have been based in the southern Philippines for more than a decade to help train local troops in hunting down members of the group.