Pro-Islamic State militants stormed a school in Mindanao early this morning (Wednesday, June 21) and briefly held several students hostage.
The attack by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) comes fighting between government troops and Islamist militants in Marawi City has entered its fifth week.
About 300 armed men, including suspected members of the BIFF, launched the attack on a school in Pigcawayan town in North Cotabato province.
Police believe the gunmen were led by commanders identified as Abunawas Damiog, Abu Zaiden and Abu Sala.
After briefly holding a number of students captive, the militants withdrew with no reports of casualties.
“It’s already resolved,” Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said. “They’ve withdrawn, they are no longer there. The school area is again safe.”
He also said the area had been secured, and troops were on “pursuit mode” against the BIFF.
Padilla confirmed that the BIFF members had taken hostages which they used as “human shields” as they fled pursuing government troops, but he had yet to receive information on whether they had been released at the time of the news conference, which was before noon today.
“In the withdrawal phase of the armed group, they used some civilians as human shields. We are just ascertaining if they have released at least five civilians they have held hostage,” he added.
Earlier, a BIFF spokesman had said they had taken civilians to a safe place after a gunfight erupted with troops but did not intend to hold them to ransom.
Local police chief Realan Mamon said the attack could have been be a diversionary tactic to ease pressure on the terrorists fighting in Marawi, which is about 120 miles to the north.
An estimated 350 people have been killed in the weeks of fighting, which erupted after a failed raid to seize Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf commander who is also the Islamic State’s representative, or ‘emir’ in the region.
It is believed he was in the city to unite the various Islamist groups of southern Philippines under the black flag of IS.
The intensity of fighting that has followed the raid, and the presence of foreign jihadis in the city, suggest that he made some headway towards this end.
Yesterday, the Philippine armed forces launched a renewed push against the terrorists with the aim to clear the area by the weekend Eid festival.
The BIFF is a breakaway group of the dominant Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is talking peace with the Philippine government.
The BIFF broke away from the MILF as it differed with the latter in its demands from the government.