Philippines Launches Fresh Strikes Against Pro-IS Militants

Jeoffrey Maitem
Cotabato, Philippines
180410-PH-arms-1000.jpg Maj. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega (right), the 6th Infantry Division commander, and his operations chief, Col. Ricky Bunayog, check high-powered firearms recovered from a gun manufacturing facility operated by BIFF rebels Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines, April 10, 2018.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

The Philippine military launched fresh air and ground assaults against pro-Islamic State militants in southern Maguindanao province on Tuesday, forcing hundreds of families to flee in fear of getting caught in the crossfire.

But the target of the military offensive, identified as Kagi Karialan, is believed to have escaped rocket and mortar fire that landed on his base on the outskirts of Maguindanao, local army spokesman Capt. Arvin Encinas said.

Karialan is a ranking commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, or BIFF, an offshoot group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a southern insurgent force that signed a peace deal with Manila in 2014.

“There were reports from civilians about their presence in the area so we launched our combat operations and it’s ongoing until now,” Encinas said.

Numbering in the few hundreds, BIFF is composed mostly of fighters who have vowed to carry on with their separatist fight after MILF agreed to the deal on regional autonomy. The 12,000-strong MILF is now helping the armed forces go after BIFF and other armed militant groups that are seen as potential spoilers to peace in the southern Philippines.

BIFF  has pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State, but did not send fighters to Marawi, a city in the south held for five months last year by a group of IS affiliates led by Isnilon Hapilon.

“There were reports from civilians about their presence in the area so we launched our combat operations and it’s ongoing until now,” Encinas said.

In Maguindanao, more than 400 families were evacuated from their homes, with local officials assisting them and providing with relief, he said.

Encinas said there were no reported casualties on the government side, but the military was still checking reports about deaths among the enemy.

“We are checking if Karialan was injured in the air strike,” he said.  

Military sources said Karialan reportedly surrendered to the MILF’s chief peace negotiator , Mohaqher Iqbal, who has refused to either confirm or deny the report.

But Abu Misri Mama, Karialan’s comrade and spokesman for BIFF, confirmed that his colleague met senior leaders of the MILF and negotiated the terms of his supposed surrender.

A trusted lieutenant of the late BIFF founder, Ameril Umra Kato, Karialan is wanted for a string of crimes, including murder, extortion and roadside bombings against military personnel and civilians in Maguindanao.

Also on Tuesday, the military  reported that troops had overrun a firearms factory controlled by BIFF at a remote site also in Maguindanao. Two soldiers were injured when they were hit by gunfire by escaping militants.

Mark Navales in Cotabato City contributed to this report.


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