Daesh-linked militants hole up in school in Philippines
Troops, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters clash in southern province; army says militants have withdrawn from school.
Dozens of armed fighters linked to Daesh holed themselves up at a school in southern Philippines on Wednesday as they tried to escape from a clash with the military, officials told local media, according to Anadolu Agency.
The government-run Malagakit Elementary School was located in Pigcawayan town in North Cotabato Province.
Pigcawayan Police Chief Inspector Realan Mamon told GMA News that more than 100 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) entered the school at 5.45 a.m. (2145 GMT).
Luckily, there were no students at the school at the time since classes usually begin at 8 a.m. local time.
Over 500 people from three villages in the town were forced to flee their homes to avoid being caught in the crossfire between troops and militants, GMA News quoted a police spokesman as saying.
Later, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla told a press briefing at the presidential office in the capital Manila that militants had withdrawn from the school.
“They have withdrawn, they are no longer there. The school area is safe again,” Padilla said. He added that troops were in pursuit of the militants.
Padilla also said militants had used five civilians as human shields when they withdrew from the school.
No casualties were reported during the incident.
BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama told ABS-CBN News the school incident took place due to a fierce firefight with the government forces.
Mama denied the clashes with his group were related to the fight between the government forces and another Daesh-linked group -- the Maute fighters. He added the BIFF strongly denounces actions of Maute group and said his group did not support them.
Mama said the groups clashes with government forces was in retaliation to intensive shelling of BIFF strongholds.
The latest attack took place as government forces continue to wind down operations against Maute fighters in Marawi City.
The BIFF is said to be a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). It had opposed the MILF’s peace agreement with the government.
The number of people killed in the ongoing firefight between government troops and Daesh-linked fighters in Marawi City in the southern island of Mindanao has risen to 310, a military official said on Friday.
Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia, commander of the Armed Forces' 4th Civil Relations Group, said 225 Maute armed group members, 59 security personnel and 26 civilians have been killed since the outbreak of hostilities on May 23; 1,629 civilians were also rescued by troops, local government units and civil society organizations.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared a martial law in Mindanao on May 23 in response to clashes in Marawi City that began when police and military made efforts to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the so-called emir of Daesh in Southeast Asia.