Government security forces killed at least 12 suspected militants linked to Islamic State (IS) and wounded dozens in intense fighting in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao, the military said Friday.
Soldiers were on a routine patrol in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town when they were attacked by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace pact with the government in 2014.
A soldier was also injured in the fighting, and the military had to use ground forces and aircraft to repulse the enemy, believed to number around 50 fighters, said regional military commander Maj. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega.
“One government troop was wounded in the clash while more BIFF members are believed to have been killed aside from the reported 12 killed,” Dela Vega told reporters.
“Our soldiers have been vigilantly guarding the entire central Mindanao in order to constrict the firefight in specific engagement areas and continue to pursue the remnants of the terror group,” he added.
BIFF, with hundreds of fighters, broke away from the 10,000-strong MILF in 2008 and has vowed to carry on with the separatist fight, attracting younger, more hardline fighters.
The military has accused BIFF of engaging in criminal activities such as cattle rustling and drug trafficking. The rebel group has declared its support for Islamic State, but did not send fighters to a five-month battle in the southern city of Marawi last year, where 1,200 people – mostly militants – were killed.
Earlier this week, a professor warned of another siege in major cities in the Mindanao region as he confirmed information about an ongoing IS recruitment campaign.
Octavio Dinampo, a professor at Mindanao State University, appealed to the public to remain vigilant against possible attacks by IS-linked militants.
He mentioned the cities of Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato, Davao, and General Santos as possible targets.
“God forbid something is being cooked by this group. The members of the group maybe few but, they are bringing a very dangerous idea and recruiting people who are mostly unschooled and gullible with the promise of money,” he said.