Philippines: 14 Pro-IS Militants Killed in Southern Battles

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
Cotabato, Philippines
2021-03-23
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Philippines: 14 Pro-IS Militants Killed in Southern Battles Philippine soldiers stand inside military headquarters in Manila, March 14, 2020.
AFP

Philippine government forces killed 14 suspected pro-Islamic State militants in days of clashes in the restive southern province of Maguindanao, the military said Tuesday.

The fighting broke out on March 17 after more than 50 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), under the command of Ustadz Karialan (alias Imam Minimbang), occupied a village in the remote town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, regional military spokesman Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar said. 

“Fourteen militants were confirmed dead in the clashes,” he told BenarNews. “Their bodies were recovered and we have already some of their names.”

Troops and civilians also reported that 25 militants were believed to have been injured but escaped while two soldiers were injured, he said. The fighting displaced 5,000 people. 

Villagers told authorities that armed men had been spotted amassing in the area, Baldomar said, adding that the gunmen fired at troops sent to the village to check on the reports, touching off days of gun battles. 

“The fighting continued until Sunday, but clearing operations are continuing so the residents can return to their homes safely,” Baldomar said

Troops recovered seven homemade bombs the militants allegedly left behind in houses they had occupied, he said.

Days before the clashes, BIFF gunmen had harassed an outpost manned jointly by soldiers and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said Col. Pedro Balisi Jr., commander of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade.

The MILF is the country’s largest former separatist group, which signed a peace deal with the government. It controls an autonomous region in the south.

The BIFF are former MILF fighters who had opposed that peace deal. Members pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, but did not send fighters to join the siege of southern Marawi City by pro-IS members in 2017. The five-month battle killed more than 1,200 fighters, soldiers, police and civilians. 

Previous attacks

In January, suspected BIFF militants carried out two roadside bombings in southern North Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces that killed at least three people and left scores injured. 

In 2019, BIFF was blamed for a series of bomb attacks, including on a town market and at a restaurant in the town of Isulan that injured eight and 18 respectively.

The most recent deadly gun battles occurred at the same time troops were rescuing four Indonesians who had been held by Abu Sayyaf members for more than a year after being kidnapped from their fishing boat in Malaysian waters in January 2020. The fourth victim, a teenager, was rescued on Sunday, three days after his compatriots were rescued from a boat that had capsized off a small island called Pasigan.

Tuesday’s announcement in the Philippines came on the two-year anniversary of the day that the last IS bastion in Iraq and Syria fell to an international coalition of forces. The coalition, joined by local partners, captured the stronghold in Eastern Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province and arrested 800 fighters.

“Although the liberation of territory in Iraq and Syria was an important turning point in the fight against ISIS, our mission is far from complete,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Tuesday in a statement marking the anniversary. He was using another acronym for IS.

“The Global Coalition remains united in its determination to see this enemy destroyed and will continue its efforts against the group in Iraq, Syria, and other countries. The United States is firmly committed to the Global Coalition and to the lasting defeat of ISIS,” he said.

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