Manila // Nine people were killed on Tuesday after suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group raided the Philippines resort island of Bohol sparking a firefight with police.
Four members of the Philippine security forces and five of the militans were killed in the fighting.
The gunmen sailed into the Bohol on Monday, going upriver toward a remote section of the island aboard three fast boats.
Local officials said the boats reached a village near the town of Inabanga where they squared off against security forces who went to investigate.
Residents told police the type of boats were used only in Mindanao – where Abu Sayyaf is based.
The incursion would be the first on a major Philippine tourist destination in recent years by Abu Sayyaf, which has long engaged in kidnappings for ransom – often targeting foreigners in the lawless southern Philippines.
“Security forces reported that the armed group is well-armed with heavy-calibre weapons, but now cornered in an isolated section” of Bohol, Philippine military chief of staff General Eduardo Ano said.
It comes after the US and Australian embassies warned their citizens this week about possible kidnappings by “terrorist groups” in the central Philippines.
Bohol is a major tourist destination, where foreign tourists swim with whale sharks and marvel at tiny primates called tarsiers, go on cruises aboard boats on crystal-clear rivers and lounge at white-sand beaches.
Military spokesman Padilla said the army had received information over the past few weeks about “a potential activity on the part of some lawless elements to disturb the peace” in the area.
“The clearing operations are ongoing and we are pouring in more forces to help and assist. We hope to finish this by the end of the day,” the spokesman added.
The Abu Sayyaf, also blamed for deadly bombings, has pledged allegiance to ISIL.
Over the past year Abu Sayyaf has been expanding its activities, boarding commercial and fishing vessels off their southern island stronghold of Jolo, near Malaysia, and abducting dozens of foreign crew members.
They beheaded a German tourist earlier this year and two Canadian tourists last year, all three of them having been seized at sea.