ZAMBOANGA CITY: Four gunmen, two of them suspected drug dealers with links to the jihadist Maute group, were killed in separate operations in Lanao del Sur at dawn on Tuesday.
Philippine Army Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command, said the first gunbattle erupted in the town of Maguing after security forces swooped down before 3 a.m. on the hideout of suspected drug dealers with links to the Maute group.
Two gunmen were killed in the fighting, while two Army soldiers were injured in the clash, Petinglay said.
She added that security forces were serving arrest warrants on the suspects who are engaged in shabu trading largely financed by the Maute group.
“The search warrant was served against the drug syndicate, which is affiliated with and being financed by the Maute group in Lanao del Sur,” Petinglay said, quoting a statement from Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez, the regional military commander.
Troops recovered an M16 automatic rifle and munitions, including two packets of suspected shabu from the slain gang members.
The wounded soldiers, Petinglay said, were brought to a hospital in Iligan City.
Similarly at daybreak, the troops also clashed with over two dozen jihadists in the town of Poona Bayabao,
about 30 kilometers from Maguing, where two more gunmen were killed in Barangay Ragayan.
The fighting lasted over 45 minutes and soldiers recovered four automatic rifles, a rifle grenade launcher and an anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launcher, including two improvised explosives from the battle site.
Petinglay said the troops retrieved the bodies of all four slain gunmen and that security operations continue in the province, a known stronghold of the Maute and other jihadist groups tied to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or ISIS.
Meanwhile, a total of 32 Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits were reported killed in the past two months as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) intensified its campaign against the brigands in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces.
This is aside from the 22 ASG men reported wounded, 13 arrested and two who voluntarily surrendered, according to Petinglay.
The bodies of 14 of the slain 32 bandits were also recovered.
Five major clashes ensued during the last two weeks and 28 soldiers were wounded.|
Last Sunday, a clash erupted at the boundary of Talipao and Maimbung towns in Sulu after soldiers spotted a group of ASG bandits holding six to 12 kidnap victims in a mangrove area.
About nine bandits were killed in a series of encounters, aside from the 10 reported killed in Barangay Igasan, Patikul town last March 3 as the military intensified its operations against the bandits over the beheading of German captive Juergen Kantner last February 26.