SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao: A faction of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) failed in their attempts to raise the black ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) flag in several villages in Maguindanao.
The extremists, apparently taking advantage of the Marawi siege that has gripped the focus of government forces tried to raise their flag at least four times, from June 6 to 12, in six remote villages.
Members of the Peace and Order Council (POC) confirmed that the BIFF made such attempts.
The ISIS-inspired group, led by Salahudin Hassan or Commander Salah, first attempted to capture on video the raising of their black flag at Sitio Nanas, Barangay Pamalian in Shariff Saidona, Maguindanao on June 7.
However, the move was aborted by the Philippine Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion that drove them away and even led an armored combat vehicle on the scene after alert barangay (village) officials informed the military of the group’s presence.
The 50 BIFF bandits under Nasrullah Omar, positioned nearby, countered the attacked but immediately withdrew when Armored Simba vehicles got close and fired caliber .50 machine guns at them.
Army officials admitted that five soldiers were wounded in the firefight, but said three BIFF bandits were killed.
The village officials identified two of the slain militants as Madsid and Munap, who were followers of Commander Salah.
Army soldiers recovered from the scene an ISIS flag tied to a bamboo pole that the extremists left behind as they fled.
Commander Salah and his sub-commanders – Bashir Ungab, Nasser Adil, Ansari Yunos, and Abdulmalik Esmael – were originally with the BIFF faction led by Imam Bongos but bolted in late 2016 to established their own group now boasting of allegiance to ISIS.
Similarly, the extremists tried to raise the black flag in Barangay Kuloy, Shariff Aguak on June 10 but was foiled when soldiers belonging to the 57th Infantry Battalion arrived.
Also, members of the 23rd Army Mechanized Company, a unit of the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion, clashed for several hours with the armed men, one of them carrying an ISIS flag, at Sitio Maibunga in Barangay Malangog, Datu Saudi Ampatuan.
The gunmen were also followers of Commander Salah, according to local officials.
Major Gen. Carlito Galvez. Jr., chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said local government officials in Maguindanao are actively supporting the military’s effort to stop local militant groups from spreading in the province.
Capt. Arvin Encinas, public affairs officer and spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said recent operations against the BIFF were carried out based on reports of sightings by village officials.
Meanwhile, BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama, in a statement, denied involvement of their groups in the foiled attempts of Commander Salah to establish enclaves in Mamasapano, Sharif Saidona, Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi towns.