Four Suspected Islamic State-linked Militants Slain in Southern Philippines

Jeoffrey Maitem
Cotabato, Philippines
Four Suspected Islamic State-linked Militants Slain in Southern Philippines A soldier inspects improvised bombs recovered following a shootout on Sunday with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in the southern Maguindanao province in the Philippines, March 2, 2020.
[Handout photo from the 6th Division of Philippine Army]

Philippine security forces killed four suspected members of a pro-Islamic State militant group who were allegedly plotting a bomb attack, during a three-hour shootout in a southern province, the military said on Tuesday.

Troops responded on Sunday to calls for help by villagers near the town of Shariff Saydona Mustapha who had complained of being harassed by armed men, said local army commander Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy. A firefight ensued that led to the casualties on the enemy side, he said.

“They burned houses. The civilians alerted our men about the armed men,” he said. “The fighting left four dead on the enemy side,” Uy said.

Soldiers discovered 10 improvised bombs left behind by the suspected militants, the military said.

“The recovered bombs have the trademark of BIFF,” said Col. Pedro Balisi Jr., a commander of the local army. It was not immediately clear why the military waited till Tuesday to publicize the deadly operation over the weekend.

The militants were identified as members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Uy said.

They were under the leadership of Ustadz Karialan (also known as Imam Minimbang), a notorious BIFF commander in the area whose forces had engaged the troops in fierce clashes in the past, he added.

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 wounded.

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

Last month, BenarNews reported that Abu Misry Mama, a senior BIFF member, died of natural causes in the southern Philippines. The government had offered 1 million pesos (U.S. $21,000) for Mama’s arrest or capture.

BIFF is a breakaway faction of the now-defunct rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which heads a transitional government in a Muslim autonomous region in the south after signing a peace deal with Manila. BIFF refused to sign the peace deal.

BIFF numbers just a few hundred, with the group concentrated largely in central Mindanao Island, officials said.

While BIFF did not send fighters to join the sacking of southern Marawi City by pro-IS militants in 2017, it launched attacks elsewhere in the Mindanao region to divert military attention from the battlefront.

Shortly after the siege of Marawi was declared over in October 2017, Mama admitted that BIFF had launched attacks to distract troops.

Late last month, Murad Ebrahim, head of the Bangsamoro Transitional Authority, said that he had made preliminary contact with members of BIFF as well as the Abu Sayyaf Group, in efforts to persuade them to come into the fold of the law.

Security forces in the southern region have been on heightened alert after twin suicide bombings carried out allegedly by Abu Sayyaf operatives killed 15 people on Jolo, an island in southern Sulu province. A year earlier, 23 died in a twin-suicide bombing that targeted a church in Jolo town.

Abu Sayyaf’s IS faction is a small group known for kidnappings and beheadings.

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