updated 9/21/2009 10:21:06 AM ET 2009-09-21T14:21:06

Al-Qaida-linked militants ambushed a convoy of Marines returning to base Monday after raising the Philippine flag on a rebel camp they overran, killing eight troops and wounding nine others, officials said.

Five militants were killed in the ensuing clash in southern Jolo island's Indanan township, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr.

Earlier in the day, soldiers raised the Philippine flag on an Abu Sayyaf mountain camp in Indanan that they overran after clashes and airstrikes that left up to 19 militants dead, officials said.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino said the bodies of two Abu Sayyaf militants have been recovered, but intelligence sources say at least 17 more were killed in Sunday's fighting. Five were wounded on the government side.

The hostilities broke out as residents of the predominantly Muslim island celebrated the Islamic festival of Eid-al-Fitr.

Troops stumble upon 220 rebels
Troops were tracking a 40-man group of militants led by Isnilon Hapilon when they stumbled upon a gathering of some 220 rebels, including two commanders, Albader Parad and Umbra Jumdail, according to Dolorfino.

Two members of the Southeast Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah were also believed to be with the group, including Mauwiyah, a Singaporean.

Hapilon's group was monitored by military intelligence to have arrived on Jolo on Saturday from nearby Basilan island. Officials say Hapilon, Parad, Jumdail and their respective forces were at the camp when the fighting broke out. The three commanders apparently escaped in the intermittent 10-hour firefight that ensued.

Ground troops had difficulty scaling the 1,000-foot slope so they requested airstrikes, Dolorfino said. The camp was captured Sunday.

Dolorfino, who visited the site Monday, said he and Sulu provincial Gov. Abdusakur Tan led the flag-raising rites over the camp "to symbolize assertion of our sovereignty over that place."

Pursuit operations
Pursuit operations continue against the militants, who splintered into groups and fled.

Washington has offered a $5 million reward for Hapilon, who has been indicted in the U.S. for alleged involvement in terrorist acts against Americans and others in the Philippines, as well as lesser rewards for the capture of the other two commanders.

The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 400 fighters, has been blamed for numerous bombings, beheadings and kidnappings of Filipinos and foreigners. It is believed to have received funds from al-Qaida and is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

The group is believed to be sheltering Jemaah Islamiyah militants, including Umar Patek and Dulmatin. The two fled to the Philippines to evade a crackdown in Indonesia after allegedly helping mastermind the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people.

More on: Abu Sayyaf

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