A soldier and four suspected Filipino militants were killed in gunbattles between government forces and an Islamic State-linked group during the past two days in southern Maguindanao province, the Philippine military said Tuesday.
Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) militant group ambushed troops near the town of Datu Hoffer Ampatuan, triggering a gun battle Tuesday afternoon, said Maj. Arvin Encinas, regional military spokesman.
“The firefight lasted for about 20 minutes,” he said, adding that two militants were killed while no troops were injured.
On Monday, troops clashed with BIFF militants who were harassing civilians in nearby Ampatuan town, said Maj. Gen. Diosdado Carreon, the regional military chief. A soldier and two militants were killed.
“We lost one brave soldier who paid the ultimate sacrifice just to ensure the safety of the community,” said Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, head of the Western Mindanao Command.
“We pray for his eternal repose, for the fast recovery of two of his comrades and for the safety of the others who are currently pursuing the remaining enemies,” he said.
Carreon said Monday’s clash occurred as troops were responding to complaints about militants in the region. Soldiers recovered the bodies of two dead militants and their weapons, including a .50-caliber sniper rifle, an M14 rifle and homemade bombs.
One of the slain BIFF militants was identified as Ustadz Kamaruh, the nephew of Basit Usman, a Filipino bomb-making expert who had been on the U.S. list of wanted terrorists. Usman, who operated training camps in the southern Philippines, was killed in a military operation in 2015.
MILF splinter group
The BIFF is one of several known militant groups operating in the southern region of the predominantly Catholic Philippines.
With a force numbering in the few hundred, the BIFF has allied itself with IS and Filipino militants in the south. Despite the alliance, BIFF did not send fighters to Marawi in 2017, when other IS-linked militants launched a failed siege to take over the southern Philippine city.
More than 1,200 militants, government troops and civilians were killed during five months of fighting.
The BIFF splintered from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which was the largest Muslim insurgent group in the Philippines until its leaders gave up their insurgency in exchange for controlling their own region in the south. In September 2019, MILF turned over hundreds of weapons as part of the peace agreement reached with the government five years ago.
In addition, MILF fighters integrated into army ranks have assisted in the hunt for militant fighters in the south, officials said.