Two Filipino policemen and a suspected militant with links to Islamic State extremists were killed in separate incidents in the southern Philippines over the weekend, and a manhunt was under way, officials said Monday.
Men believed to be members of the Abu Sayyaf Group opened fire at a police station in Parang, a town on Jolo Island in Sulu province on Saturday, leading to casualties on the police side, said Col. Michael Bawayan, the provincial police chief.
“We dispatched our men to track down the perpetrators who were seen retreating to nearby Indanan town,” Bawayan said. Three officers were wounded apart from the two slain policemen, who were identified as Patrolman Arjun Putalan and Corp. Mudar Salamat, he said.
National police chief Gen. Archie Gamboa deployed police commandos to Sulu as he ordered a manhunt against the suspects.
“I directed my men to launch hot pursuit operations and an investigation in coordination with our counterparts from the Armed Forces of the Philippines to bring the suspects to justice,” Gamboa said in a statement.
Also on Saturday, a member of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters militant group under the command of commander Imam Bungos was killed and five other BIFF suspects were captured during a clash with soldiers in Midsayap town in North Cotabato province, according to regional military commander Maj. Gen. Diosdado Carreon.
“The soldiers were responding to reports about the presence of gunmen in Lomopog village when fired upon by the BIFF, triggering a 30-minute running gun battle,” Carreon said.
BIFF is a splinter faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front group, a former rebel group that signed a peace deal with Manila and now administers an autonomous Muslim region in the southern Philippines. BIFF is one of several Philippine groups that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS).
The weekend’s violence occurred amid a heated debate in the Philippines over a strengthened anti-terror law, which is awaiting President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature after Congress passed a related bill earlier this month. Human rights groups and members of the opposition warn that his administration could use provisions in the proposed law to go after the president’s critics, although government officials have assured the public this would not be the case.
The Abu Sayyaf is the smallest of several armed groups operating in the Philippine south. Abu Sayyaf figures allied with IS and foreign militants led a takeover of the southern city of Marawi in 2017. They were defeated five months later after a battle with Philippine forces that killed an estimated 1,200 militants, soldiers and civilians.
In January 2019, an Abu Sayyaf unit helped two Indonesian suicide bombers attack a church on Jolo in twin bombings that killed 23 people during a Sunday Mass service.