Security forces killed two brothers who allegedly were bomb makers for a pro-Islamic State (IS) group in the southern Philippines, during a joint police and military operation this week, officials said Friday.
Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, commander of the Joint Task Force Central and the 6th Army Division, identified the pair as Jeoffrey Nilong alias Momoy, 34, and his younger brother Amen, 24.
The two were killed in a gun battle with police and military teams in the town of Surallah in South Cotabato province on Wednesday. The raiding team had been tipped off that the brothers were in the area and launched a raid to capture them.
“This triggered a brief firefight as the troops retaliated, killing the local terror leader of Dawlah Islamiyah and his brother who was also a member,” Uy said, using the local term for the IS.
Troops recovered a bag containing four improvised bombs and bomb-making paraphernalia, Uy said, adding the brothers’ group was responsible for a series of bomb attacks in Sultan Kudarat province and nearby Maguindanao province.
Col. Jemuel Siason, provincial police commander in South Cotabato, said the brothers refused to stop their vehicle at a security checkpoint, triggering the gun battle.
“Based on information, we believe they were planning to launch bomb attacks,” Siason said. “They have targeted some areas but were proceeding to General Santos City when they were stopped.”
Officials said they believe the brothers were members of a unit of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway faction from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that has signed a peace deal with Manila and controls an autonomous region in the south.
The BIFF was blamed for bomb attacks on a town market and at a restaurant in the town of Isulan last year, wounding eight and 18 respectively. With a few hundred members, the BIFF is concentrated largely in central Mindanao island, officials said.
Members have pledged allegiance to the IS, but the BIFF did not send fighters to aid IS militants when they took over the southern city of Marawi in 2017, triggering a five-month battle that left about 1,200 militants, security forces and civilians dead.
Instead, members launched a series of small attacks to divert troops away from Marawi.
Security forces in the southern region have been on heightened alert for militant activities since last month when two female suicide bombers detonated explosives on Jolo island, killing 15 people. That attack was blamed on an IS faction of the Abu Sayyaf, a small Islamic group more known for kidnappings and beheadings.
Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales in Cotabato City, Philippines, contributed to this report.