AT least eight Islamic militants were killed while two government troops were wounded after extremists fled to the abandoned town hall of Butig town in Lanao del Sur amid a military operation to capture the leader of the Maute jihadist group on Saturday morning.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said about 200 Maute group members fled to the abandoned town hall after the military mounted an operation to capture their leader Abdullah Maute, a Jordanian-trained terrorist who formed the jihadist Dawlah Islamiya.
“We launched an operation more than two days ago with the aim of capturing the leader of the group that is sowing chaos in parts of Lanao, Maguindanao and Cotabato,” Padilla said in a radio interview. “They are also responsible for the bombing in Davao.”
“They fled and occupied the abandoned town hall of Butig which is located in an area where they have relatives and supporters,” Padilla said, adding the military also launched artillery fire and air strikes against the group.
Padilla said the clash took place just five months after the military captured the Maute group’s Darul Iman stronghold in June.
Padilla said the fighting began around 10 a.m. Saturday after troops of the 49th Infantry Battalion engaged 15 Maute group members in a 45-minute gun fight at Barangay Bayabao Poblacion after which the terrorists withdrew.
Government troops pursued the fleeing rebels and eventually caught up with them at the old municipal hall where they sought cover against the attacking security forces.
The rebels even raised an Islamic State flag at the old town hall and positioned themselves in the nearby national high school and mosque.
Major Filemon Tan, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, said they are carefully analyzing the current situation in Butig to prevent collateral damage.
Tan said Maute renamed the group Dawla Islamiya to impress foreign terrorists so that they could get funding. The group was responsible for the Davao City bombing last September that left 14 people dead and wounded 70 others.
The Maute group, which operates mainly in the Lanao provinces, is also believed to have links to the Parojinog narcotics ring based in Ozamis City.
Many members of the Maute group are members of the Alkhobar kidnapping ring which used to be led by former lieutenants of Moro Islamic Liberation Front chieftain Hashim Salamat who broke away from the MILF after Salamat’s death.
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