EIGHT more members of the terrorist Maute group were killed as intense fighting between government forces and the extremist band continued in Butig, Lanao del Sur on Monday, a military official said.
This brought to 19 the number of jihadists slain since they occupied the old and abandoned Butig municipal hall on Saturday, according to Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
In a news conference at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, Padilla said the military expects the number of enemy casualties to increase as troops from the Philippine Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade led by Col. Roseller Murillo approached the jihadists’ position.
“The number might increase at the end of the operation today. That update would be given to you at the end of the day,” Padilla said.
The AFP, he disclosed, has sent more troops to reinforce those going after the Maute group.
According to the official, an operation against the Maute commenced before dawn Monday that resulted in the renewed clash.
Almost all residents living near the area have fled as a result of the intense firefight.
Thirteen soldiers were wounded on the government side, Padilla said.
When the extremist group occupied the abandoned municipal hall on Saturday, they removed the Philippine flag and replaced it with the flag of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Reports said military aircraft fired rockets at the position of Maute group, which was blamed for the Davao City night market bombing last September 2, which killed 15 people and wounded 70 others.
Seven of its members were arrested while another surrendered in connection with the bombing. The military said there were more than a dozen personalities involved in the incident.
Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP Public Affairs Office, said earlier that prior to the occupation, the military had been conducting offensives against the group.
“We are already conducting operations and in anticipation of our action they [Maute] thought the area of Butig will be our objective so what they did they rushed to the place and occupied and take their positions. So because of that, we were constrained into conducting operations to dislodge them,” he explained.
In June this year, the military captured the alleged training camp of Maute also in Butig after a 10-day battle that left four soldiers dead and 15 others wounded.
Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Makmod Mending Jr. made the warning in light of the military’s continued offensive in Butig against the group.
The offensive had reportedly displaced at least 16,000 people as of Monday.
The ISIS calls for establishment of an Islamic state and is notorious for beheading hostages, while Mardrasah refers to Muslim-run schools.
“They are spreading their very extreme ideals that all non-Muslims are enemies that need to be killed. They are using the religion of Islam to justify the killings, when we all know that it is not the truth. Islam is for peace,” Mending said.
In a statement, the Palace earlier said the Armed Forces will continue to frustrate the sinister objectives of the Maute group and government will prevent the situation from escalating to other areas.
Mending however, dismissed reported links of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to the Maute group.
“The MILF already signed a peace agreement with the government [in 2014]. They are not linked to the Maute group. It just happened that Butig is a former MILF stronghold,” he said.