A group of heavily-armed militants with ties to the Islamic State entered a town in the southern Philippines, leading to a clash with the military Tuesday, according to Philippine military officials.
Government security forces clashed with Muslim militants in Marawi after Abu Sayyaf group leader Isnilon Hapilon, accompanied by armed members of the Maute Group, moved into the city, bring the fighting that has ravaged the countryside for months into an urban center. Both Abu Sayyaf and Maute have sworn their allegiance to ISIS, and they fly similar black standards.
The firefight dragged on for hours, leading to a mass evacuation. “We are doing our best to contain the situation,” a Philippine official explained to AP reporters.
The 103rd Brigade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines moved in to take down Hapilon, one of the world’s most-wanted militants, but “troops were met by bullets from the Maute group, triggering a fierce firefight,” said Colonel Jo-ar Herrera, the spokesperson for the Army’s 1st Infantry Division.
“We launched a surgical operation to neutralize the group who is planning terrorism in Marawi,” Herrara explained, but the operation turned into a brutal firefight.
The shootout broke out at around 2:00 p.m. at an apartment complex in Barangay Basak Malutlut that Hapilon and the other militants used it as a rendezvous point. Clashes also occurred in Barangay Caloocan and other parts of Malawi.
Starting around 3:30 p.m., bomber planes took turns bombing militant positions, and police personnel, supported by armored personnel carriers, battled Maute Group fighters in the streets leading to the Amai PakPak provincial hospital.
At one point, the fighters raised a black ISIS flag at the hospital.
The fighting between Philippine troops and the extremists was still raging in Malawi at around 5:00 p.m. Five Philippine soldiers were injured in the fight.
Security officials believe that Hapilon and his men joined up with Maute in part of an effort to establish a Islamic caliphate in the Southern Philippines.
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