COTABATO CITY: Government forces and jihadists aligned with the notorious Islamic State (IS) clashed anew in Lanao del Sur before dawn on Saturday in Piagapo town near the camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Army Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the Zamboanga-based Western Mindanao Command (WestMincom), confirmed the clashes but did not provide further details about the “ongoing engagement.”
She said they were still identifying the “armed group” that clashed with the troopers.
The Manila Times‘ sources from the intelligence communities said the encounter occurred at around 3 a.m. when the military, using air strikes, bombed a site in the village of Gakap.
The sources said a local group of militants, jihadists who have pledged allegiance to the IS and known to authorities as the Maute group, converged in the town recently.
The militants were joined by non-Maranaos, including Maguindanaoans, Tausugs and “Balik-Islam” or Muslim converts who went to the area for hijra or migration in what they call the “land of jihad,” the sources said.
It was not immediately known whether the military was alerted of their presence in the area, but the sources said efforts were made by civilians, local leaders and the MILF to ask the jihadists to leave town.
The MILF rebels, who have signed peace accords with the government, had disowned members involved in the Maute group’s activities.
Hundreds of families in Gakap and other nearby villages were displaced by the recent firefight.
The relief team of Lanao del Sur and other humanitarian organizations dispatched groups to attend to the needs of the evacuees.
Last month, the military clashed with the same group in Ragayan, Poona-Bayabao. A detachment was installed in the area following last year’s firefights in Butig, which was briefly taken over by the jihadists. MOH SAADUDDIN