MARAWI CITY: The Philippine Army (PA) has captured the main camp of the jihadist group Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM) in the hinterlands of Butig town in Lanao del Sur following over a week of skirmishes.
Clearing operations were still underway on Monday and it was not clear when the area will be declared safe as intermittent firefights continue between the military and the rebel group.
Col. Roseller Murillo, commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade, confirmed to The Manila Times the capture of the main camp located in Poktan, an adjacent village of Bubong (Poblacion) where the group’s defensive post was earlier overran by troopers.
Recovered from the camp were five unidentified corpses, four M16 rifles, two rocket propelled grenade launchers (RPG), a locally-made 50-caliber Barrette sniper’s rifle, a binocular, a iCom radio, two 81mm mortars rigged to improvised explosives, two hand grenades rigged as booby traps and various documents with intelligence value.
Military reports said there were 24 confirmed dead from the rebel side based on information corroborated by the local government units of Butig.
Among the reported killed was the group’s leader identified as Omar Maute, his younger brother Matti and an Indonesian, whose bodies were not recovered. The Omar family denied the claim.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which signed a peace agreement with the government, had earlier disowned those fighters.
The military vowed “non-stop” pursuit operations against Maute’s forces who they branded as a “foreign and local terrorist group (FLTO)” being blamed for the previous atrocities in Lanao and nearby provinces.
Meanwhile, a jihadist cleric in Lanao del Sur issued a statement over the weekend saying their forces are not terrorists but pure mujahideen (soldiers of Islam) who are fighting for the establishment of an Islamic State.
“To all our Muslim brothers and sisters in Lanao, we want to let you know that we are fighting in the name of Islam and that we are legal mujahideen and not terrorists. We are aiming for the establishment of Islamic State,” Jamil Yahya said on Sunday.
“Our enemies had stolen our lands by force, particularly Lanao, and that only fearless jihad (struggle) could regain it until Islamic Shariah law is implemented. It is an obligation of all Muslims to support jihad in any means like wealth, work and words, so as even if we diminish, Islam is still intact,” he added.
Yahya is one of the Muslim clerics who lead more than a hundred people, including minors and women, in a baiah, or pledge of allegiance to the ISIS in Marawi City, backed by members of the KIM hoisting the black ISIS.
KIM founding members headed by Humam Abdul Najid remain at large and authorities are eyeing their involvement in a recent ambush in Wato-Balindong.
Local residents in the nearby village of Poktan said the group, led by a certain cleric Abu Jamal, was recruiting minors age 12 to 18 to fight under the banner of the ISIS before the clashes erupted.
The skirmishes in Lanao del Sur started on Feb. 20 after armed men hoisting the ISIS or Daesh black flag harassed a military detachment.
The more than a week of hostilities has displaced thousands of residents in Butig.