Filipino troops launch attack on local IS supporters

Troops in the Philippines, backed by bomber aircraft, have attacked sympathisers of the Islamic State group.

Philippine troops fire their 105mm howitzer cannons towards enemy positions. Picture; Getty
Philippine troops fire their 105mm howitzer cannons towards enemy positions. Picture; Getty

Soldiers attacked a range of targets, including dozens of militants who took cover yesterday in an unoccupied Islamic school in the south, officials said.

Troops launched an assault on the Maute militants in the Butig area on Thursday.

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Military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said the operation came after reports that militants were continuing to make weapons despite being blamed for a bomb attack in September that killed 15 people in Davao city, President Rodrigo Duterte’s home town.

Troops were also searching for two militant leaders – brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute – who were in charge of the group’s armed force.

As the military offensive was happening, about 40 Maute militants took cover in a Muslim school, or madrassa, in the village of Bayabao.

Air force helicopters fired rockets and troops clashed with some of the militants in fighting that wounded two soldiers.

An unknown number of militants were also wounded or killed, according to army officials.

The madrassa lies about half a mile from the area’s town hall, which was secured by government forces.

More than 1,000 villagers fled due to the fighting in Butig, which is in a predominantly Muslim region around 520 miles south of Manila.

The Maute militants were initially affiliated with an Indonesian terror suspect, known only as Sanusi, who was killed in southern Marawi city, near Butig, in 2012.

They later used black flags and bands with Islamic State symbols in an attempt to capture the attention of the Middle East-based terrorist group and possibly secure funding, military officials said.

The loosely organised group has more than 200 members with about 70 firearms, according to a government threat assessment report.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is the larger and main Muslim rebel group in the south, has a more extensive camp in the hinterlands of Butig.

However, the insurgents, who signed a peace deal with the government in 2014, were not supporting the Maute militants, Padilla said.

In March, the military launched an offensive involving about 2,000 military personnel.

That operation resulted in the deaths of 24 Maute militants and six soldiers in Butig, which is in Lanao del Sur province. Dozens of other combatants were wounded.

The latest violence comes after Abu Sayyaf, once written off as one of the global jihadist movement’s also-rans, began to gain strength in the southern Philippines by chasing down high-value victims at sea and then ransoming them off for millions of dollars.