World Bulletin / News Desk
The Philippines president has officially acknowledged that a group battling the military in a town in the south is connected to ISIL.
Analysts have long linked both the Maute Group and related militant outfit the Abu Sayyaf to ISIL, but Duterte's televised comments late Monday are the first official recognition.
“We are not good today because finally, finally, intelligence community advised me that ISIS [ISIL] has finally connected with the group in the Philippines called the Maute," President Rodrigo Duterte said in a televised speech late Monday.
There’s a raging war now in Lanao... I will go to Marawi... I am not trying to scare you," he added, ahead of a trip to the region where the Maute Group is currently battling military.
On Friday, Maute recaptured a town hall and other areas it previously occupied in Butig town, in the predominantly Muslim province of Lanao del Sur.
The group -- believed to have around 200 members -- seized the building, a high school and mosque Friday, and hung black ISIL flags at some nearby buildings and houses.
Earlier Monday, the military said that almost 35 members of the group had been killed in two days of clashes and 13 soldiers wounded.
Five months ago, the group was flushed out of the area -- now abandoned by many of the town's residents -- in a major military offensive.
Its leaders, Omar and Abdullah Maute, had previously pledged allegiance to ISIL, but prior to Monday the relationship had not been confirmed.
The Maute group is said to be actively recruiting minors for service as child warriors and using the stalling of a peace process between the government and the country’s one-time largest Moro rebel front to make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.
In April 2016, the group abducted six sawmill workers from Butig, two of whom were later found beheaded, and on Oct. 4, three men linked to the group were arrested in connection with a 2016 bombing in Davao City -- Duterte's hometown.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has repeatedly said that the Maute Group has already established links with the Abu Sayyaf, which since 1991 has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortions in a self-determined fight for an independent province in the Philippines.
On Friday, Duterte warned Friday that while he could launch “all-out war” against militants based in the south, he was concerned about huge losses -- especially on civilians -- that would result from such a move.
"I can be nasty and I can be a bad boy but I am talking about a nation,” he said after visiting wounded soldiers at a military hospital in southern Zamboanga City.
In mid-2014, ISIL captured Iraqi city of Mosul -- now the target of a wide-ranging military campaign -- and overran vast swathes of territory in the country's north and west.