Philippine Army: BIFF Militants Suffer Heavy Death Toll in Weekend Fighting

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
Cotabato, Philippines
2021-09-27
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Philippine Army: BIFF Militants Suffer Heavy Death Toll in Weekend Fighting Peacekeepers belonging to a joint peace monitoring group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Philippine army and police secure a village in Maguindanao, southern Philippines, Aug. 27, 2021.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

At least 17 people – mostly suspected Islamic militants – were killed during heavy fighting between government forces and BIFF insurgents in the southern Philippines at the weekend, the military said Monday. 

The clashes began when some 30 member of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attacked government soldiers who were patrolling near Shariff Saydona Mustapha town in Maguindanao province, according to a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Division.

“One soldier and 16 other BIFF militants were killed,” Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar said. “The figures of fatalities from the enemy side were provided to us by civilians. We have their names.”

“The running gun-battles started Saturday and lasted until Sunday afternoon. Mopping up operations are ongoing,” he told BenarNews.

BIFF are guerrillas who broke away from the former separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), when the latter agreed to a peace deal with the government for an expanded autonomy in the Philippine south. 

The MILF now controls the region and has been helping Manila fight against the BIFF and other militant organizations.

Baldomar said the military used artillery and called in air support against the militants, who are believed to be hiding out in a vast marshland that borders Shariff Saydona Mustapha.

The bodies of two of the 16 slain BIFF fighters have been recovered so far, he said. But a military intelligence report, including information provided by locals, indicated that 14 more militants had been killed in the gunfight. 

The slain fighters were followers of Ustadz Karialan, one of three ranking commanders of the BIFF who has, however, not openly come out in support of the Islamic State extremist group. The two other BIFF leaders, Ismail Abubakar and Abu Turaife have pledged their allegiance to IS.

It was unclear if Karialan was among the militants killed, Baldomar said.

“Until today, our clearing operation in the area is ongoing,” he said, adding that army units had fired artillery toward the militants’ positions.

He said government forces were also bracing for possible retaliatory attacks.

“They are few, and we are not letting our guard down as we continue to intensify our campaign. In due time, they will be finished,” regional military commander Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy told reporters.

BIFF has a few hundred members and is concentrated mainly in central Mindanao Island, officials said.

In January, BIFF militants carried out two roadside bombings in the south that killed three and injured dozens of people. Two years ago, the group carried out a series of bomb attacks in the south, targeting a market and a restaurant that injured more than 24 people.

In 2017, hundreds of pro-IS fighters from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere took over the southern Philippine city of Marawi for five months. Some 1,200 people were killed in a battle that ensued between the militants and government forces. 

While BIFF did not send guerrillas to join that battle, it launched diversionary attacks at the time, according to officials. 

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