Today is: Thu, May 23, 2013
Extremists targeted US aid project in Philippines
MANILA, Philippines - A ferocious attack by armed Muslim extremists in the southern Philippines that claimed 15 lives targeted a US-funded project to build a school, the United States embassy said Monday.
Sunday's assault in the strife-torn island of Jolo saw clashes between dozens of the rebels, who were carrying rifles, and a Filipino Marine outpost tasked with securing the school construction site.
"(Filipino) Marines providing security for the construction of the school were attacked by lawless elements. In the attacks on Jolo, a USAID-funded school construction activity was affected," a US embassy statement said.
It did not give details about the project or say how it had been "affected" by the firefight that left two soldiers and 13 attackers dead.
Despite the raid, the embassy in the capital Manila said it would continue to work to develop the impoverished island, which has long been a haunt of various outlawed armed bands including the feared Abu Sayyaf group.
The Abu Sayyaf, founded in the 1990 with money from Al-Qaeda, has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history including a ferry bombing that killed more than 100 people in 2004.
US special forces have been stationed in the southern Philippines for a decade to help train the military in combating the Abu Sayyaf, although they are not allowed to have a combat role.
In September 2009, two US troops working on a school project were killed by an improvised explosive device in Jolo believed to have been planted by Muslim extremists.
Sunday's besieged Filipino military outpost was tasked with securing the US-funded school project as well as Filipino road and water programs in that area, said regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang.
He said the raid was believed to have been carried out by an Abu Sayyaf-allied group calling itself "awliyah," made up of younger fighters.
Development projects in that part of Jolo were seen as an "intrusion" by local Muslim extremists who sometimes target such programmes, Cabangbang added.
"If there is development in the area, they do not like it. They actually attacked other projects, especially bridges and roads," he said.
Jolo and other parts of the southern Philippines are home to a wide range of armed Muslim groups.
The Philippines is Asia's Roman Catholic outpost but there are about 4 million Muslims who live mainly in the south.