At least 18 Filipino forces have been killed by Daesh - affiliated terrorists during heavy battles in southern Philippines, officials said. At least 52 more soldiers were also wounded in the Saturday skirmishes with Takfiri militants from Abu Sayyaf group backed by allied militiamen in the hinterlands bordering the towns of Tipo Tipo and Al-Barka on Basilan Island, AP reported citing three senior military authorities who spoke on condition of anonymity. According to the officials, only four of the militants were killed in the fighting which lasted for more than nine hours. The government troops had been deployed to kill or capture an Abu Sayyaf commander identified as Isnilon Hapilon, who has publicly pledged allegiance to the Daesh terrorist group and has been hunted for years for suspected involvement in a number of terrorist attacks, the officials added. They further stated that many of the 100-150 Takfiri militants were armed with M203 grenade launchers and managed to swiftly reinforce their ranks and inflict heavy casualties on government forces. The report added that last year 44 police commandos were also killed in battles with various Takfiri militant groups in southern Mamasapano town while on a covert mission that was fraught with faulty planning and execution. However, they managed to hunt down a top Malaysian terror suspect in Southeast Asia. The Abu Sayyaf group has also been blamed for a surge in kidnappings for ransom in recent weeks, including the separate abductions of 10 Indonesian tugboat crewmen near southern Tawi Tawi province and four Malaysian tugboat crewmembers off Malaysia's Sabah state on Borneo Island. On Friday, an Abu Sayyaf faction released a former Italian missionary after six months of captivity in Jolo Island in southern Sulu province. There were speculations, however, that a huge ransom was paid to secure the freedom of Rolando del Torchio, who was flown to Manila on Saturday, though the military claimed it was not aware of any such payment. According to the report, the terror group is also suspected of holding three Filipinos and 18 foreigners, including two Canadians and a Norwegian.