Firefight erupts between gov’t troops, Maute group in Lanao Sur
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—Soldiers on Saturday battled heavily armed men belonging to the Maute group, who occupied the town hall of Butig, Lanao del Sur, several other buildings and houses in the town since Thursday.
Major Filemon Tan Jr., the spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command based here, said no casualty had been reported since Thursday amid the sporadic clashes between soldiers and Maute gang men.
“Troops have been deployed in the area and more deployments are happening,” Tan said.
He said around 10 a.m. Saturday, Maute gunmen fired on soldiers conducting a clearing operation after an air support bomb run.
“They fired on our troops,” he said.
Tan said no civilian was caught in the crossfire as the town was practically deserted.
He said a day before the attack, residents already got information Maute group members will storm the town, which was they made a preemptive evacuation.
At least 50 heavily armed members of the Maute terror group were involved in the fresh Butig skirmishes.
As of Saturday, the armed men continue to occupy portions of the town, Tan said.
It was the second time this year that the Maute group occupied Butig, a 6th-class agricultural town, which lies at the foot of Mr. Makaturing. The town has a population of over 16,600 people.
In February this year, the group – which has declared allegiance to the Islamic State – also attacked the town.
The clashes in February resulted in the deaths of 20 Maute gunmen and three Army soldiers while 11 other soldiers were wounded. More than 1,500 people were also displaced in the February clashes.
Even as the military claimed it has flushed out the group in February, defiant Maute gunmen snatched six sawmill workers in the town in March and beheaded two of the victims on suspicion of being military agents.
The military subsequently launched a full-blown operation against the group – which President Rodrigo Duterte has described as among rising extremist organizations in Mindanao – and killed a few dozen more Maute group members.
Amid the fresh military operation that also saw the deaths of some of the group’s leaders, Maute gunmen continued their attacks – occasionally bombing military targets in Lanao del Sur.
In June, another round of military operation was launched against the Maute group, which led to the fall of its main camp – Camp Darul Iman in Butig.
The recovery of IS flags, banners, armbands and t-shirts, as well as DVDs containing ISIS instructional videos has confirmed that the group was into extremism and had wanted to be recognized by IS, the military said.
However, the military said there was still no evidence showing direct ties between the IS and the Maute group.
The military continued to pursue the group and even arrested eight alleged members.
In August, Maute gunmen – armed with such rifles as AK-47 – stormed the Lanao provincial jail in Marawi City and sprung their eight arrested companions.
The group was also said to be behind the September 2 Davao City night market explosion that killed 15 people and wounded 67 others.
Three alleged Maute group members were later arrested in connection with the night market blast.