ISABELA, Philippines – A powerful booby trap bomb wounded 22 Army Scout Rangers, seven of them critically, as they patrolled a former stronghold of al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants in Basilan yesterday, the military said.
The soldiers belonging to the 13th Scout Ranger Company were patrolling the outskirts of a remote camp captured last month from Abu Sayyaf extremists in Barangay Baiwas, Sumisip town when the device went off, said Col. Ricardo Visaya, commanding officer of the Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade and commander of Joint Task Force Basilan.
The Abu Sayyaf formerly used the camp to hide many of their kidnap victims until a large military assault dislodged the militants last March, Visaya said.
“The camp had a lot of improvised explosive devices planted around it... to strengthen (the extremists’) defensive position. They are very difficult to detect,” he said.
He described the device as an old booby trap left behind by the Abu Sayyaf before they abandoned the camp and was set off when soldiers tripped on it. The blast took place some 800 meters away from the former Abu Sayyaf lair.
Visaya said government troops who overran the camp earlier had recovered nine improvised bombs and detonated three others.
Helicopters were deployed to airlift the wounded to a military hospital, Visaya said.
Seven foreigners – a Dutchman, a Swiss national, an Australian, two Malaysian traders, an Indian and a Japanese man – are believed still held by the Abu Sayyaf and other outlawed groups in the south.
US troops have been based in Mindanao for a decade to help train soldiers in hunting the Abu Sayyaf. – With Jaime Laude - By Roel Pareño