MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A 3-year-old boy and his father died from wounds suffered in a brazen attack by Abu Sayyaf extremists on Filipinos celebrating the end of Ramadan, raising the toll to 23 dead, officials said Tuesday.
About 40 to 50 Abu Sayyaf militants armed with assault rifles opened fire Monday on some 50 villagers as they traveled on a southern road to visit relatives during the holiday ending the Muslim holy month.
Marine Brig. Gen. Martin Pinto said six villagers who were wounded remained in the hospital Tuesday following the militants' bloodiest attack in recent years. Three other slightly wounded villagers have gone home after treatment.
The attack occurred in a coastal village in Talipao town in predominantly Muslim Sulu province, where the extremists have survived in jungle camps despite years of U.S.-backed Philippine military offensives.
Pinto says pursuit operations are continuing but there has been no encounter so far with the gunmen.
"It's not that easy, this is a vast area," he said in a telephone interview. "Our troops are moving now."
Initial military reports said 10 civilian security force personnel were with the villagers, but Pinto said Tuesday the information was being verified, including if 6 men among the dead were members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team.
The motive for the attack is unclear. Officials say it could be part of a violent clan war or retaliation against the civilian security team, which has backed the military in previous clashes where Abu Sayyaf members were killed.