By Jeoffrey Maitem
Five suspected members of Filipino militant groups with links to Islamic State extremists were killed in separate clashes with government forces in the southern Philippines over the weekend, the military said Monday.
Government troops on patrol in the town of Sumisip on Basilan Island engaged Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants in a 30-minute, starting around 7:40 a.m. Sunday, said Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, chief of the Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom).
“Two on the enemy’s side were killed while a third was killed in a follow-up operation,” Vinluan told BenarNews. “Our offensives will continue.”
Meanwhile earlier on Sunday, soldiers killed two suspected militants linked to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Datu Paglas, a town on Mindanao Island, in the military’s latest clash with members of the group since late April.
The bodies of the dead Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Basilan were recovered and turned over to local officials, WestMinCom said.
The clashes occurred after President Rodrigo Duterte visited the south last week to rally officials of a Muslim autonomous region to increase efforts to rein in the militants. The president warned local officials that he would be forced to launch an all-out offensive against the BIFF militants if they failed to persuade them to end the attacks.
Army Maj. Gen. Juvymax Uy, commander of the 6th Division, said government troops suffered no casualties during Sunday’s gunfight in Datu Paglas, and recovered the BIFF militants’ bodies.
“I directed more troops to reinforce the engaged units and establish a blockade on the enemy withdrawal routes to ensure that no terrorist will escape from the pursuing forces,” Uy said, noting that soldiers seized weapons and ammunition. “Two militants were slain.”
Previously, the military had said that two women linked to BIFF members died when a bomb prematurely exploded on April 28. The women were traveling with BIFF spokesman Abu Jihad, who was able to escape, officials said. On May 12, troops conducting a dawn patrol near Datu Paglas killed four BIFF members, according to an army spokesman.
Since January, the military has killed 41 BIFF suspects while 48 of the militants have surrendered, according to WestMinCom.
BIFF is an offshoot of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which ended a decades-long separatist insurgency when it signed a peace deal with Manila in 2014. The MILF controls the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The BIFF is divided into several factions, one of which has pledged allegiance to IS while the others are focused on their separatist ideology, officials said.
Basilan is a small island and the birthplace of the Abu Sayyaf, which means “bearers of the sword.”
One faction of ASG, led by Isnilon Hapilon, had pledged allegiance to IS. In 2017, it laid siege to Marawi, a city in the southern Philippines, with an aim of establishing a caliphate. Hapilon, along with other commanders, died during the five-month siege.
Since then, authorities have blamed the Abu Sayyaf for planning a suicide bombing in Jolo, the capital of Sulu province, which killed 14 people in August 2020. A year before that attack, in January 2019, an Indonesian couple killed themselves and 21 others in a suicide bombing at Jolo’s Catholic cathedral.
Since the start of 2021, WestMinCom says it has killed four ASG suspects and captured one of them, while 13 others have surrendered.
A BenarNews correspondent in Zamboanga, Philippines, contributed to this report.