MANILA: A toddler and two soldiers were killed in the southern Philippines after gunmen ambushed a village on Eid Al-Adha, the military said Tuesday.
Fighters suspected to belong to the Abu Sayyaf militant group struck on Monday morning in the island province of Sulu as Muslims celebrated Eid.
An elite army trooper and a government militiaman, identified as PFC Joie Halasan of the 2nd Special Forces Battalion and CAFGU Active Auxiliary (CAA) Aldazier Hassan from the 1st Sulu CAA Company, were reported to have died instantly from multiple wounds.
Sisters Salma Abdukalim Sahisa, two, and 11-year-old Darna Abdukalim Sahisa were also hit by bullets.
“It was a populated area and the two children were playing on the roadside when the ambush transpired,” said Army Maj. Arvin Encinas, a spokesman for Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom).
The siblings were hospitalized in Jolo, where soldiers were dispatched to donate blood for their operations.
Salma died that afternoon and Darna remains in critical condition.
WestMinCom Commander Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana condemned the gunmen, saying they had perpetrated a “deceitful and inhumane act” that did not represent Islam.
“We would like to extend our sympathies to the bereaved families. Rest assured all sorts of assistance will be provided,” he said.
Abu Sayyaf is notorious for deadly bombings, ransom kidnappings and beheadings. It has pledged allegiance to Daesh and been blacklisted by Washington and Manila.
Joint Task Force Sulu Commander Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr. said the Eid attack was a “desperate move” and accused the group of trying to sow fear among people.
Earlier this year Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the military to crush Abu Sayyaf and other militant groups on the island of Mindanao after twin bombings during a church service in January killed at least 21 and wounded more than 100.
The Jan. 27 attacks on Jolo were one of the deadliest in recent years in a region plagued by decades of instability.