Updated at 11:24 a.m. ET on 2018-08-23
Philippine security forces killed seven pro-Islamic State militants on the eve of the observance of Eid-ul-Adha, the Islamic feast of sacrifice, on the insurgency-wracked southern island of Mindanao, a military official said Thursday.
Troops launched an artillery attack Monday in a marshy area near Sultan sa Barongis town in Maguindanao province, about 1,680 kilometers (1,050 miles) southeast of Manila, after authorities received information that forces of the militant group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were hiding in the area, regional military spokesman Capt. Arvin John Encinas told BenarNews.
“There was no ground encounter,” he said. “Based on the information provided to us by locals seven military died in our shelling that started in the afternoon until evening of Aug. 20.”
The BIFF is a splinter group of the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s main separatist force that signed a peace deal with Manila and is now helping the government battle IS-linked militants.
Encinas said they received information that BIFF commander Abu Turaife was among the enemy fighters in the area, prompting security forces to launch the attack. It was not immediately clear if Turaife was injured in the government offensive.
Turaife’s faction had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, but did not join in the Marawi city siege last year.
About 1,200 people were killed, most of them militants, in five months of vicious fighting that began in May 2017 when Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged IS leader in the country, captured parts of Marawi. The gunbattles ended after the Philippine military killed Hapilon and several foreign and local pro-IS militants.
Encinas also reported a soldier was wounded Wednesday morning when suspects believed to be Turaife’s men detonated a homemade bomb they planted along the road in the nearby town of Datu Hoffer.
“Soldiers were patrolling when the bomb exploded,” he said.
Abu Misri Mama, spokesman for the BIFF, confirmed their forces were in the village for the observance of Eid-ul-Adha when the military began firing mortars, but denied that they suffered casualties as reported by the government.
“We only have one wounded. They immediately abandoned the area as soon as the military started their artillery fires,” Mama said.
The assault was carried out on the eve of Eid-ul-Adha, an Islamic holiday that marks the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim, or Abraham to Christian and Jews, to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God’s command. It also marks the culmination of the hajj, the annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca.
Mark Navales from Cotabato City contributed to this report.
Updated to replace the main photograph.