The Philippines’ military has reported that operations against the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf were verified to have killed 133 members of the militant group in southern Sulu province in 2015.
Maj. Filemon Tan, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, cited Friday the report from the Joint Task Group for the troubled island province as saying that another 164 were recorded to have been injured in security operations.
In a text message, he said that the number of casualties had been verified by military intelligence units based in Sulu – a known Abu Sayyaf stronghold.
At least 13 members of the group – known for holding hostages and demanding ransoms – were also arrested over the year, alongside the recovery of more than 50 firearms.
Meanwhile, the operations also left 18 members of the security forces dead and more than 80 others injured, according to Joint Task Group Sulu’s commander, Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado.
Inquirer.net also reported him as saying that there had been a significant drop in the number of Abu Sayyaf members over the year due to "relentless focused military operations."
Military operations against the group were intensified in late November upon the orders of President Benigno Aquino III.
The directive came after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called upon authorities to take action after a Malaysian national kidnapped from a seaside town in the country was beheaded in Sulu.
The Abu Sayyaf is still holding several captives, including two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina kidnapped from a resort in September for whose release it has demanded a ransom of more than $60 million.
Since 1991, the group -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.