Two soldiers and two Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM) members were killed in continuing clashes between the military and the extremist group since Saturday in the village of Bayabao (Poblacion) in Butig town, Lanao del Sur province, a known lair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels.
Col. Roseller Murillo, commander of the Marawi City-based Philippine Army 103rd Infantry Brigade, told The Manila Times that more troops were deployed in the hinterlands of Butig to hunt down the rebel group.
As of press time Monday, sporadic fighting continued, with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) reportedly reinforcing KIM. About 30 armed men from Tagoloan were reported to have arrived on pump boats in Masiau town.
Armored tanks and two MG-attack helicopters were sent by the military in the area, while artilleries were positioned at Lumbatan town, near Butig.
Murillo said the firefight started on Saturday when dozens of MILF gunmen attacked army soldiers belonging to the Charlie Company of the 2nd Platoon under First Lieutenant Joseph Plumentra of the 51st Infantry Battalion.
The attack triggered six hours of fighting that killed Corporal Julairin Tutuan, but the other fatality was not immediately identified.
KIM, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) said that “two [of their]brothers [who were killed]died as martyrs.” Local residents in Butig said the armed group was spotted hoisting the “black flag” of the IS.
Col. Manolo Samarita, 103rd IB deputy commander, said the clashes resumed on Sunday after blocking forces of the army engaged with another armed group allegedly headed by an “engineer” of the Maute brothers.
KIM has been involved in a series of bombings in Mindanao in the past headed by Humam Abdul Najid. The group also claimed responsibility for the attack in the province last month that was blamed by the military on the Maute brothers.
It was not immediately known if Najid’s forces were involved in the recent skirmishes, but authorities said the militants have an estimated force of more than 300 members.
The two-day firefight led to a massive displacement of civilians in Butig and nearby affected-areas who fled to nearby safe areas while others sought refuge with their relatives in Marawi City, according to social welfare officer Maharlanny Alonto.
Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal Alonto-Adiong Jr., meanwhile, ordered the provincial disaster risk reduction management office, provincial social welfare department and other agencies to immediately attend to the needs of thousands of civilians displaced by the clash.