Abu Sayyaf gunmen have attacked Filipino civilians travelling to celebrate the end of Ramadan with their families, killing 21, including at least six children, in a road attack.
The incident is said to be the bloodiest in recent years by the violent militant group.
Eleven other civilians were wounded as the group travelled in two vans in a coastal village in Talipao town in predominantly Muslim Sulu province.
The Abu Sayyaf is one of about four smaller Muslim insurgent groups still fighting after a peace deal signed by the Philippine government in March with the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It wants to create an Islamic state in the largely Roman Catholic country.
About 40 to 50 Abu Sayyaf militants armed with assault rifles opened fire on the vans, marine Brigadier General Martin Pinto and other military officials said.
The motive was not immediately clear, but Brig Gen Pinto said some of the dead belonged to a civilian security force and were engaged in a clan feud with the Abu Sayyaf.
Violent clan wars, known as “rido”, have complicated security worries in the country’s south, which is already mired in decades-long Muslim rebellions.
Officials said they were pursuing the militants after the attack, but there’s no word yet if any of them have been captured.
Among those killed in the attack were at least four members of a Talipao civilian security force called Barangay Police Action Team that has been helping the military fight the jungle-based militants in recent months, Brig Gen Pinto said.
Armed forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala condemned “this heinous atrocity that victimised innocent civilians”, adding that the military “will continue its pursuit operations until those responsible are brought to justice”.
Six of the dead were aged two to 15 and four of the wounded are children, including a three-year-old boy, police and military reports showed. An 83-year-old man was among the dead.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has about 300 armed fighters split into several factions, holds about 10 hostages, including two German tourists seized in April and two birdwatchers, one Dutch and the other Swiss.