5 Pro-IS Militants Killed in Fresh Fighting in Southern Philippines, Army Says

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
Cotabato, Philippines
2021-05-12
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5 Pro-IS Militants Killed in Fresh Fighting in Southern Philippines, Army Says Evacuees break their fast during dusk at a temporary shelter in Datu Paglas, a town in Maguindanao province, southern Philippines, May 12, 2021. Dozens of families have sought shelter here after BIFF militants attacked the town at the weekend.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

Philippine government forces killed five suspected members of a Filipino militant group with links to Islamic State extremists in new clashes in the south, officials said Wednesday, as people in the largely Muslim region prepared to end their holy month of fasting.

Government troops were conducting a dawn patrol on Wednesday near Datu Paglas, a remote town in Maguindanao province, when they encountered an undetermined number of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), said Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar, a local spokesman for the Philippine Army.

“There was a running gunbattle that followed. We have no casualties,” Baldomar told BenarNews. “The troops recovered four dead bodies belonging to the extremist group, one high-powered firearm and other war materials.”

The clash occurred a day after President Rodrigo Duterte met with troops in the south as well as officials of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), as he urged them to do more to crush the BIFF and other allied militant groups.

While Duterte was delivering his exhortations to the military on Tuesday, however, troops during a separate patrol clashed with another group of militants, killing one suspect identified as Kopang Sahak, the military said.

Sahak was a sub-leader of the Daulah Islamiyah-Maguid Group operating in the remote area of Dapiawan, a sparsely populated village also in Maguindanao, officials said.

Daulah Islamiyah is the local name for Islamic State (IS). The military had dismissed the Maguid group as being composed mostly of fringe militants who were engaged in banditry and other crimes, such as extortion.

The BIFF is divided into several factions, one of which has also pledged allegiance to IS while the others are focused on their separatist ideology, officials say.

BIFF is an offshoot of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which ended a decades-long separatist insurgency when it signed a peace deal with Manila in 2014. The MILF now controls the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“We continue to mount our offensives to neutralize the remaining members of the Daulah Islamiyah-Maguid Group in the area,” Army Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, commander of the Joint Task Force Central.

Since January this year, 11 Daulah Islamiyah militants have been killed during a series of military operations in the region, he said.

The latest skirmishes took place as Filipino Muslims were getting ready to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan. This year, the holiday falls on Thursday in the Philippines.

In his comments on Tuesday, Duterte called on the BARMM to help rein-in the BIFF or, he warned, the military would launch an all-out war against the militants.

“I am begging you to help me because otherwise, if I give the order for an all-out offensive, it will be bloody and it will be sad. I don’t want that,” Duterte said during a surprise visit to the region.

On May 8, dozens of BIFF gunmen occupied a town market in Datu Paglas for six hours before government troops were able to retake the town after a gunbattle. No one was reported injured on either side, however. But, as of Wednesday, dozens of local families were still sheltering at temporary evacuation site.  

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

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