Security forces killed seven suspected members of an Islamic State-inspired militant group during a clash in the southern Philippines, the military said Friday.
Combined police and military forces attacked the suspects’ hideout in a village in southern Midsayap town on Wednesday, sparking a firefight that led to the casualties, local infantry commander Lt. Col. Glen Caballero said.
“The suspects engaged the security forces in a 30-minute gun battle,” Caballero said. Soldiers recovered several firearms, including sniper rifles, from the slain men, he said.
Officials identified those killed as members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a Muslim rebel faction that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS).
BIFF claims to fight for full independence for Muslims in the south and is a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which had ended its insurgency in 1996 when it signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government in exchange for autonomy in southern Mindanao region.
The government has said that the BIFF, while it pledged allegiance to IS, did not send fighters to the southern city of Marawi two years ago. Other IS-linked militant groups attacked Marawi in May 2017, triggering five months of heavy fighting and aerial bombings that destroyed the lakeshore Islamic city and killed 1,200 people, most of them militants.
The IS local leader, Isnilon Hapilon, and several key commanders, including foreigners, were killed in Marawi. The group has named a replacement for Hapilon, Sulu-based Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan of the Abu Sayyaf group.
Meanwhile, the BIFF maintains a strong presence in the central Mindanao region, officials said.
Regional police commander Col. Maximo Layugan said the suspects killed in the Wednesday clash were behind “terroristic and criminal activities” in Midsayap town, south of Marawi.
Among those killed was Mama Macalimbol, a BIFF fighter wanted for several crimes including a grenade attack on a Catholic Church in Midsayap that injured 16 people on Christmas Eve 2016, Layugan told BenarNews.
“These are notorious criminals linked to a local terror group and responsible for sowing atrocities in the locality,” he said.