Troops fight to retake Lanao Sur town from terrorists
ZAMBOANGA CITY—Soldiers on Saturday battled members of the Maute group to try and retake Butig, Lanao del Sur, where the Islamic State-inspired militants had been occupying an old town hall and other buildings and houses since late last week.
“Troops have been deployed in the area and more deployments are happening,” said Major Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson for the military’s Western Mindanao Command.
Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao told the Inquirer he still had no clear picture of the situation in Butig. He said that based on a report he received, the gunmen were not occupying the new hall.
In Manila, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said two soldiers had been wounded in the fighting since Thursday.
Tan said about 50 Maute gunmen clashed with soldiers conducting a clearing operation in one part of Barangay Poblacion following an aerial bombing.
No civilian was caught in the crossfire as the town, which has a population of about 16,000, was practically deserted. Residents received information of an impending attack by the Maute group and fled a day before the gunmen stormed the town, Tan said.
It was the second time this year that the Maute group had occupied Butig, a 6th class agricultural town, which lies at the foot of Mt. Makaturing.
The group, which has declared allegiance to the Islamic State, attacked the town in February.
At least 20 gunmen and three Army soldiers were killed then. The military reported 11 soldiers were also wounded and more than 1,500 people were displaced in the ensuing clashes.
The group struck the town again in March, seizing six sawmill workers and beheading two they suspected were military agents.
That attack was followed by a major military operation against the group, killing dozens of its members.
In June, another round of military operations led to the fall of Camp Darul Iman, the group’s main camp in Butig.
Troops recovered IS flags, banners, armbands and t-shirts, as well as DVDs containing Islamic State instructional videos, confirming the group’s extremist orientation and desire for recognition by the IS, the military said.
The military, however, said there is no evidence of direct ties between the IS and the Maute group.
The military later captured eight alleged members. But in August, their comrades— some armed with AK-47 rifles—stormed the Lanao provincial jail and freed them.
The group was also blamed for the Sept. 2 Davao City night market bombing that killed 15 people and wounded 67 others. Three alleged Maute group members linked to the bombing have been arrested. —WITH REPORTS FROM AFP, AP/rga
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.