World Bulletin / News Desk
Dozens of gunmen suspected of belonging to a new militant group have been killed in clashes with government troops in the troubled Southern Philippines' province of Lanao del Sur since Saturday, according to the country's military.
Major Filemon Tan, regional military spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Western Mindanao Command, told reporters Friday that “government troops have recovered four bodies, so far."
Tan, who cited intelligence reports, put the death toll among members of the group suspected of links to Southeast Asian regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah at 42.
The fighting is taking place during a stall in the Philippines peace process, leading many to question if the deal to end a separatist conflict that has killed around 150,000 people will ever be signed. Both parties -- the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) -- have warned that while the agreement is shelved during the duration of the country's presidential elections, such "terrorist" groups may try and take advantage of local frustrations to move into the territory.
On Thursday, the government announced that is has asked peace partners the MILF -- the Philippines' one-time largest Moro rebel group -- to reposition more than 1000 of its fighters in the country's south to avoid "mis-encounters" with government forces battling the anti-peace treaty Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other ISIL-allied groups.
Tan said Thursday that in the last six days, five government forces have also been killed while six others were injured in the ongoing operation concentrated on Butig town, where the Jemaah Islamiyah-linked group -- reportedly led by brothers Abdullah and Omar Maute -- has been hiding.
He added that government troops had overrun one of the group's lairs in the province of Lanao del Sur -- one of five provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao -- and recovered two M-16 rifles, two rocket propelled grenades and a homemade cal. 50 rifle.
The offensive -- aided by air strikes and artillery shelling -- was triggered by an attack on a military detachment by what was described as a mixture of "local and foreign terrorists".
Since the fighting began thousands of civilians have also been displaced.
The BIFF, which is opposed to the ongoing peace talk between the government and the MILF, broke away from the MILF in 2011 due to differences with the MILF leadership in handling the peace negotiations.
Jemaah Islamiyah -- al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asia affiliate -- belongs to Jemaah Ansar Khilafah Daulah Nusantara (JAKDN) -- an umbrella organization of extremist groups that have pledged allegiance to ISIL and sent members to war-torn Syria.
The JAKDN consists of several groups including the East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) -- led by Indonesia’s most wanted man Abu Wardah Santoso.
Jemaah Islamiyah was blamed for the 2002 Bali attacks that killed 202 people, mostly Australians.Last Mod: 26 Şubat 2016, 12:09