MANILA - Armed men killed eight fishermen in what appeared to be an attack by pirates in dangerous waters in the southern Philippines, a coast guard spokesman said on Tuesday.
The apparent act of piracy came as Philippine soldiers were given a six-month deadline to end Islamist militant threats, including those made on cargo ships in south, where a long-festering insurgency has been exacerbated by the growing influence of the Islamic State militant group.
About two dozen sailors and tourists were taken captive by Islamist militants last year in attacks on tug boats and yachts in the Celebes and Sulu seas, raising concerns among defense officials from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines about Islamist militancy and piracy.
Coast guard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said a Filipino fishing boat with 15 crew on board was operating off Laud Siromon island near the Zamboanga peninsula on Monday night when five armed men on a speed boat attacked them.
"The attackers opened fire at the fishermen," Balilo said.
He said eight were killed and another five men jumped overboard and swam to a nearby island. Two others who remained on the boat were unharmed.
"We consider this a piracy attack. If these were Islamist militants, they would have been taken captive and held for ransom," Balilo said.