Philippine government forces arrested three suspects who allegedly joined members of the Maute band, a pro-Islamic State group, in the takeover of southern Marawi city by militants two years ago, the military said Thursday.
The three men were captured at dawn on Wednesday as troops responded to tips from civilians that militants were present in Piagapo, a town in southern Lanao del Sur province some 20 km (12.5 miles) west of Marawi, said Brig. Gen. Romeo Brawner, commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade.
“We are glad that after the Marawi siege and a series of encounters with the local terrorist groups, we have received more reports from the communities regarding enemies or armed group present,” Brawner told reporters.
Brawner identified the suspects as Janla Tangolo, 20; Arapat Tangolo, 22; and Kamarudin Sultan, 20. He said troops seized three rifles, a revolver, ammunition, backpacks, militant paraphernalia, as well as identification cards from the suspects.
It was not immediately clear whether the trio had attorneys.
Maj. Gen. Roberto Ancan, commander of the 1st Infantry Division and the military’s regional task force, said the three men were arrested as part of efforts to catch militants who had escaped from a five-month battle with government forces in Marawi that ended in October 2017.
The leader of the militant siege who was the Islamic State chief in the Philippines, Isnilon Hapilon, and his lieutenant, Omarkhayam Maute, were both killed in the battle. But some militants escaped as the military encircled Marawi, an Islamic city in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
About 1,200 people died in Marawi, which was devastated when fighter jets pounded the city with near-daily bombing runs. Most of the fatalities were militants, defense officials said, but security analysts believe that dozens of foreign militants are still in Mindanao and are recruiting locals for another attack.
“We encourage others to be courageous, continuously trust our troops and report any local terrorist presence in order to sustain the gains of peace and development in Western Mindanao,” Ancan said.
A BenarNews correspondent contributed to this report from Zamboanga City, Philippines.