Philippine air strikes target IS-linked militants near Marawi
The offensive targeted militants led by Abu Dar, who was one of the leaders of the five-month siege of Marawi
Philippine military air strikes and ground assaults targeted a group of Islamic State-linked militants in an offensive that reportedly killed five extremists and forced thousands of villagers to flee to safety in the south, officials said on Monday.
Army Colonel Romeo Brawner said the offensive on Sunday sparked gun battles between troops and the extremists in Tubaran town in a mountainous region of Lanao del Sur province and the military was verifying reports that at least five militants had been killed. Troops were pursuing the militants.
The offensive targeted about 40 militants led by Owayda Benito Marohombsar, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Dar. He was among those who led a five-month siege of Marawi city, not far from Tubaran, but managed to escape before troops quelled the uprising last October.
More than 5,000 villagers from Tuburan and two other nearby towns fled when they heard the brief air strikes, regional assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong said. He said more than 700 moved into evacuation centres while others stayed with relatives.
Abu Dar’s presence in the hinterlands of Tubaran, where he has many relatives, was confirmed last month when his men killed a village leader who resisted their plan to venture into the town. The village leader’s relatives notified the military about Abu Dar’s presence and helped troops hunt down the militants, Adiong said.
Abu Dar is the only locally prominent leader of the bloody Marawi siege who is confirmed to have escaped from the city after being wounded in the massive military offensive.
He reportedly took more than 30 million pesos (US$577,000) in looted cash out of Marawi, which he could use for militant recruitment and to rebuild his battered organisation, Adiong said.
The Marawi siege, which began on May 23 last year, killed more than 1,100 people, mostly militants. It left the mosque city in rubble, caused President Rodrigo Duterte to place the southern third of the largely Roman Catholic country under martial law and prompted fears that Islamic State was gaining a foothold in the Asian region. Sporadic offensives continue against militants in other southern provinces.
Adiong said it would take an effective counter-radicalisation programme and other social programmes to fight new generations of militants.
“The government’s programme against these terrorists should really be good, long-term and comprehensive,” he said. “It won’t just take bullets to defeat them.”