Troops fire artillery at Islamic militants in southern Philippines

BUTIG, Philippines: Troops yesterday fired artillery at positions held by an Islamic 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 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 IS 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 IS.

The Maute group is one of several armed Islamist organizations in Mindanao which have pledged allegiance to Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria. In past fighting with troops, the group’s members were seen carrying black IS 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.-AFP

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