MARAWI, Philippines: Islamic militants occupied a primary school and took hostages in a southern Philippine village yesterday, a few hours’ drive from a city where other jihadists were fighting a month-long war, authorities said. Hundreds of gunmen initially attacked a lightly guarded military outpost at dawn, with many withdrawing but about 30 then taking over the school and using civilians as human shields, the military said. “As of now they are in the school holding the civilians.
They are using them as human shields,” Captain Arvin Encinas, spokesman for the army division with responsibility for the area, told AFP by phone. He said the gunmen had planted improvised bombs around the school. Encinas said he did not know how many hostages had been taken, or if they included children.
The unrest occurred in Pigkawayan, a farming town about 160 km from Marawi city where fighters linked to the Islamic State (IS) group have been battling troops for a month in a conflict that has claimed hundreds of lives. Armed forces spokesman Restituto Padilla earlier said the attackers yesterday belonged to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), one of four groups in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao that have pledged allegiance to IS.
Local police said the BIFF attack may have been intended to help the militants in Marawi by distracting the military. Padilla said the gunmen attacked the outpost at daybreak, then exchanged fire with troops in the morning before retreating in a hit-and-run assault typical of BIFF fighters. “It’s already resolved. The enemy has withdrawn… they failed,” Padilla said late yesterday morning.
However about six hours later Encinas reported the hostage crisis at the school. Padilla then appeared on television and confirmed militants were occupying the school. Encinas and Padilla said there had also been skirmishes throughout the day outside of Pigkawayan, which is surrounded by marshlands, mountains and farmlands. —AFP