MARAWI CITY: Two soldiers were killed and at least 10 others were wounded as renewed clashes continue in the hinterland of Butig, Lanao del Sur between government forces and local jihadists supporting the international terrorist group Islamic State (IS).
The offensive was launched after the militants moved back into territory that the military secured during deadly clashes in February, the military said.
At least 1,517 individuals, consisting of 252 families, took refuge at the house of their relatives in the nearby towns of Butig, including this city, according to Maharlanny Alonto, head of Lanao del Sur provincial social welfare and development office.
She said affected as of Sunday were the villages of Coloyan, Samer, Bayabao, Poctan, Raya Timbab, Sandab and Ragayan.The displaced families were given relief assistance, she added.
On Monday, government forces incessantly pounded the lair of the jihadists. Ground troops were supported by artillery fire and aerial bombardment of OV-10 aircrafts from the Philippine Air Force.
Lanao del Sur police chief, Senior Supt. Rustom Duran, said police forces backed the military operation by assuring that “no other armed group could provide support to the local terrorists and to ensure that none of its members could escape from the ongoing firefight.”
Col. Roseller Murillo, commander of Marawi city-based Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade, said the fresh operation was merely “law enforcement” against the criminals.
The police and military did not provide other details pertaining the operation.
The IS Ranao (Lanao), previously known as Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), claimed responsibility for the first attack on May 26 in Dilabayan village saying that “two six-by-six trucks of taghut (tyrants) forces were ambushed and humiliated.”
The group alleged that they staged the ambush after the government forces bombed their site on May 25.
The jihadists also said they shut down three tanks, one of which was hit by a landmine.
Authorities denied the claim. They said 20 members of the local terrorist group (LTG) were killed.
Various sources on Monday, however, confirmed only eight people died from the side of the jihadists.
The LTG, also known as Maute Group (avoiding the name of notorious IS or ISIS), was said to have been weaken two months ago after their camp was captured by the military. The camp was turned over later in March to the local government unit of Butig.
Last month, the militants abducted six sawmill workers and decapitated two of the hostages – Salvador Hanobas alias Tado and Makol Hanobas alias Macky – they accused of spying for the government. The process of beheading was mimicked from the IS in Syria and Iraq as shown to their propaganda videos.
Earlier this month, the group also claimed responsibility in the toppling down Tower 25 of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) saying that they aimed to “control the National Power Corporation” that continuously use resources owned by Muslims in Mindanao, referring to Lake Lanao which produced 60 percent power to Mindanao Grid for decades.
There were also reports from intelligence authorities that IS Ranao has begun this month the “migration” of local and foreign jihadists to Butig, where the group has purported the established “Islamic caliphate state” and where they can engaged in fighting for jihad or holy war.
The military has been battling other jihadists’ groups in Sulu, Basilan and Maguindanao, all provinces belonging to the troubled Muslim autonomous region in Southern Philippines.