Suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen abducted four workers in a school in the town of Patikul in the southern Philippine province of Sulu where President Rodrigo Duterte had just visited troops waging an offensive against the militants, officials said Sunday.
The incident was preceded by a jailbreak at the capital of Jolo at dawn on Sunday, reportedly among them members of Abu Sayyaf. At least three of the escapees had been killed while another was injured by pursuing policemen.
In Patikul, about 20 militants barged into a grade school compound shortly after midnight Saturday and seized six painters and carpenters, one of whom managed to escape and alerted the police. Army troops later rescued another worker.
Hours earlier, President Duterte pinned medals on wounded troops during a brief visit Saturday to Jolo, the capital of Sulu, a predominantly Muslim province about 590 miles (950 kilometers) south of Manila.
The tough-talking President has ordered government forces to destroy the Abu Sayyaf, ransom-seeking militants who still hold several foreign and Filipino hostages in Sulu’s jungles.
Six hours after the President left Jolo, 14 inmates, including suspected Abu Sayyaf fighters and drug dealers, escaped early Sunday from a jail in a new building that also houses the police headquarters in a government compound in Jolo, officials said.
Supt. Mario Buyucan, provincial police director, confirmed the 1:25 a.m. jailbreak at the Jolo Police Station.
Three of those who escaped were gunned down by police and another was shot and captured. Army troops were helping police track down the rest with the use of military drones and sniffer dogs, a police statement said.
The new kidnappings and jailbreak reflect the diverse security challenges confronting Duterte’s administration in the south, where thousands of troops have been separately battling militants aligned with the Islamic State group who laid siege to Marawi City on May 23.
After 55 days of fighting, more than 530 people, including 399 militants and 93 soldiers and police, have died in the violence in the lakeside city, a center of Islamic faith in the southern third of the largely Roman Catholic country.
Troops, backed by air strikes, are fighting less than 100 remaining militants, who are holding an unspecified number of civilian hostages in four Marawi neighborhoods in an offensive that Duterte said last week was winding down and may end in about 10 to 15 days. He said that the offensive won’t stop until the last militant is killed.