Military in hot pursuit of jihadists, tightens security

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ZAMBOANGA CITY: The military has tightened its security in Mindanao provinces following the series of clashes between troops and jihadist groups in the restive region, officials said on Saturday.

The military officials said at least 10 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), including a Filipino bomb expert and a foreign jihadist, were allegedly killed in the recent fighting that also left one soldier wounded in Datu Salibo, Maguindanao.

“A local bomber and a foreign terrorist leader of Jemaah Islamiyah were among those who were killed during the operation, the identities of whom are still being validated on the ground. Troops also recovered five improvised explosives,” Army Captain Arvin Encinas, spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division headquarters, said

Encinas, quoting Brigadier General Arnel dela Vega, said the continued support and cooperation of the community complements the ability of the military in countering “radical extremist groups” in sowing fear and violence in the province.

“It will just be a matter of time that sustained conduct of focused military operation will eventually result to the total defeat of the BIFF and other terrorist groups and this would bring about the realization of a just and lasting peace in this part of the country,” Dela Vega said.

Last Thursday, security forces also arrested four members of the jihadist Maute group in Lanao del Sur province, according to Army Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City.

Petinglay identified those arrested as Pao Panganga, Alex Bagul, Alisata Maute and Saadra Madayan, who were all implicated by the military in the ambush-slay of Marawi City police chief Abner Santos in October 2015; and the spate of kidnappings and terrorism in the region.

Petinglay said soldiers also recovered automatic weapons and improvised explosives, including crystal meth from the hideout of the Maute members.

She said security has been tightened in both Lanao and Maguindanao – part of the Muslim autonomous region – as security forces continue to hunt down terrorists.

“Operations are continuing against these lawless elements. Security has been heightened in those areas following the successful military operations against the BIFF and Maute group,” Petinglay said.

There was no immediate statement from either the BIFF or Maute on the latest clashes. Both groups are allied and have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

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