|Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks with one of the soldiers who survived a clash with Abu Sayyaf fighters in the province of Bohol on April 11. (Photo by Karl Norman Alonzo)|
A church leader in the central Philippine island of Bohol appealed for calm in the wake of a terrorist attack in the town of Inabanga during Holy Week.
"It is natural for people to be afraid, especially because there are reports that [terrorists] are still here," said Father Chito Lozada, social action director of Talibon.
At least nine people, including five suspected members of Abu Sayyaf, were killed when the terror group attacked the resort island-province of Bohol on April 11.
Abu Sayyaf, a group based in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, is known for kidnappings and beheading hostages.
The group, which has pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, has expanded its activities by boarding commercial and fishing vessels near Malaysia.
Authorities said at least a dozen Abu Sayyaf fighters used fast boats from Mindanao to reach a village in the town of Inabanga where they encountered security forces.
Father Lozada said life in the Catholic parish of San Isidro, where the attack happened, has slowly returned to normal. He said the parish was able to hold Holy Week rituals despite the attack.
"The military is already there and are in control of the area," said the priest. "But we are always on the alert because [remnants of the Abu Sayyaf group] might just be around," he added.
"Let us not panic because the military and the police are in control," said Father Lozada, adding that the residents are cooperating with authorities and are helping those who fled their homes.
On April 19, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte offered a one million-peso bounty for each member of Abu Sayyaf who eluded police and military operations in Inabanga town.
"My order is dead or alive ... I have a one million-peso offer per person," said the president during a visit to Bohol.
Military officials said the reward would encourage informants to help "expedite the arrests" of the remaining Abu Sayyaf fighters.
The military has circulated posters identifying the Abu Sayyaf members who escaped the military operation in the town of Inabanga.
Captain Jojo Mascarenas, Civil Military Operations officer of the Army's 302nd Brigade, said the remaining Abu Sayyaf fighters are armed and may still be able to attack communities although he said they no longer have the capability to take hostages.
"They are trying to find a way to leave Bohol but we will make sure that they will not be able to leave, without them getting arrested or neutralized," said the military official.
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