Philippine military in large assault against Islamic militants blamed for deadly Davao bombing
Philippine troops, backed by bomber aircraft, have assaulted local sympathisers of the Islamic State group, including dozens of militants who took cover on Saturday in an unoccupied Islamic school in the south, military officials said.
Troops launched an assault on the Maute group militants in Butig on Thursday due to intelligence reports that they were continuing to make bombs after being blamed for a September 2 bomb attack that killed 15 people in southern Davao city, the president’s hometown, military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said. Troops were also searching for two militant leaders, brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, who were in charge of the group’s armed force.
Amid the military offensive, about 40 Maute militants took cover in a local Muslim school, locally known as madrasah, in Butig’s Bayabao village. Air force choppers fired rockets and troops clashed with some of the militants in fighting that wounded two soldiers and wounded or killed an undetermined number of militants, military officials said.
The madrasah lies about 1km from the Butig town hall, which has been secured by government forces, officials said. More than 1,000 villagers fled due to the fighting in Butig in the predominantly Muslim region about 840km south of Manila.
The Maute militants initially were affiliated with an Indonesian terror suspect known only as Sanusi who was killed in southern Marawi city, near Butig, in 2012. They later used black flags and arm and head bands with Islamic State group symbols in an attempt to capture the attention of the Middle East-based terrorist group and possibly secure funding, military officials said.
The loosely organised group has more than 200 members with about 70 firearms, according to a government threat assessment report.
The larger and main Muslim rebel group in the south, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has a large camp in the hinterlands of Butig, but the insurgents, who signed a peace deal with the government in 2014, were not supporting the Maute militants, Padilla said. In March, the military launched a major offensive involving about 2,000 military personnel that killed 24 Maute militants and six soldiers and wounded dozens of other combatants in Butig in Lanao del Sur province.