Troops Kill 4 Suspected IS-linked Militants in Southern Philippines

Jeoffrey Maitem
Cotabato, Philippines
200702-PH-militants-killed-620.jpg Moro Islamic Liberation Front members wear facemasks while manning a checkpoint in Lanao del Norte province, Philippines, May 21, 2020.
Richel V. Umel/BenarNews

Philippine security forces killed four suspected pro-Islamic State militants during a clash in the southern province of Maguindanao, an army spokesman said Thursday.

The suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) group were riding in a pickup truck on Wednesday when they ignored a military checkpoint on a highway near the town of Shariff Aguak, prompting a chase, spokesman Lt. Col. Anhouvic Atilano.

“The BIFF fighters identified as Rahib Lumenda Esmail, Arsad Ukom Utto, Prati Kuludan, and Aliofmer Talimbu were wounded in the clash that followed. They were rushed to a nearby hospital, but were later declared dead,” he told BenarNews.

He said the troops had received a tip about possible militants in the region.

“Our troops were informed by our counterparts about the suspicious group of men,” Atilano said, adding that a rifle, grenade launcher and ammunition were recovered from the truck.

The BIFF is a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a former armed separatist group that signed a peace deal with the government in exchange for control of an expanded autonomous region on Mindanao Island. MILF leaders are part of a transitional government in the south and many of its fighters have given up their weapons to join the military.

The BIFF, meanwhile, is one of several groups in the southern Philippines that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS).

BIFF guerrillas, however, did not join other pro-IS militants in taking over the southern city of Marawi for five months in 2017. The siege and an ensuing battle with government forces killed an estimated 1,200 enemy combatants, soldiers and civilians, including Isnilon Hapilon, the IS leader in the Philippines.

Wednesday’s shootout in Maguindanao occurred as President Rodrigo Duterte was expected to sign a strengthened anti-terror bill, which, critics warned, could lead to abuses of human rights. The bill, passed by the parliament, needs Duterte’s signature to become law.

While the military has said the bill has enough safeguards to protect Filipinos from arbitrary arrests and mistaken identities, it imposes stiff penalties and imprisonment against anyone found to be working with local and foreign terrorist organizations. It also authorizes officials to carry out warrantless arrests and hold suspects for up to two weeks.

The latest clash follows an incident on June 26 when government security forces killed four suspected militants linked to the Abu Sayyaf Group during a pre-dawn raid in Metro Manila.

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