BUTIG, Philippines (AFP) – Troops on Sunday (Nov 27) fired artillery at positions held by an ISIS militant faction in the southern Philippines as more soldiers deployed against the group, which staged a deadly bombing in President Rodrigo Duterte’s home city.
The army is trying to dislodge members of the Maute group from an abandoned town hall and other positions they have occupied in Butig, a remote, mainly Muslim mountain town on Mindanao island.
Clashes broke out Saturday between the members of Maute, which claims allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, and the army.
Armed forces spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, citing what he called “intelligence sources”, said 11 of the militants had been killed and five wounded.
The bodies of the slain fighters had not yet been recovered, he said, adding that two soldiers were wounded.
Reporters in Butig said the military had obtained photographs of the Maute group flying the black ISIS flag over the occupied building.
They said they themselves were not close enough to verify this.
Another military spokesman, Colonel Edgard Arevalo, said this action was expected.
“They have long been professing allegiance to the foreign terror group. This is still part of the Maute group’s agenda in courting support and encouraging similar-minded individuals to support ISIS,” he said in a statement, referring to another acronym for ISIS.
The Maute group is one of several armed Islamist organisations in Mindanao which have pledged allegiance to ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria.
In past fighting with troops, the group’s members were seen carrying black ISIS flags and bandannas bearing the jihadists’ insignia were found in their base, the military said.
Three members of the Maute group were arrested last month, accused of the September bombing that left 15 people dead in Davao, Duterte’s home town and Mindanao’s largest city.
Residents of Butig, which has a population of 17,000, fled after the old town hall was occupied.
Government forces captured a Maute training camp in the town in June after a 10-day gunbattle that left four soldiers and dozens of militants dead, according to an army account.
The Mautes, once described by the military as a small-time extortion gang, attacked a remote army outpost in Butig in February, triggering a week of fighting that the military said left six soldiers and 12 militants dead.
The group also beheaded two employees of a local sawmill in April, the military has said.
Maute group occupies Lanao del Sur town anew
Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News
LANAO DEL SUR – The Maute terrorist group has occupied Butig, Lanao del Sur once again, just five months after the military managed to free the town from its clutches.
Lanao del Sur Vice Governor Mamintal Adiong said the Maute group is occupying Butig’s old municipal building while military forces are also in the area.
Reports say the Armed Forces launched a major offensive against the terrorist group, prompting them to take the town hall, national high school and mosque in Butig.
The group also removed the Philippine flag from the town hall and replaced it with that of the Islamic State (ISIS). They hung similar flags on some houses.
Heavy firefight can be heard from all over the town, with at least two soldiers already sustaining minor injuries.
As of posting time, there are reportedly around 200 Maute members in the town. They hail from different parts of Mindanao like Basilan and Maguindanao, most of them returnees to the Islamist group.
All roads in Butig, meanwhile, are closed to the public. Residents have also evacuated to other municipalities, with the biggest number in Lumbayanague, Lanao del Sur.
Adiong said they haven’t accounted yet for the total number of evacuees but are set to deliver the first batch of relief goods on Sunday morning.
The military in June captured Camp Darul Iman in Butig, said to be the final stronghold of the Maute terrorist group.
Last October, authorities also arrested three Maute group members who were allegedly behind the deadly September 2 blast in Davao City.
Though no direct link has yet been established with ISIS, the Maute group’s alleged leaders Omar and Abdullah Maute have already pledged allegiance to the terrorist group and even use their name and symbol.
– With reports from Chiara Zambrano and Roxanne Arevalo ABS-CBN News
Tags: black ISIS flag, Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, Butig, Daesh, Davao City, Duterte, ISIL, ISIS, Islam, Islamic state, Lanao del Sur, Maute group, Muslim, Omar and Abdullah Maute, Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte, terrorism