Nine suspected Filipino militants belonging to the local Islamic State chapter were captured after a brief firefight in the southern Philippines on Saturday but two sub-leaders of the group escaped, the military said.
The police, backed by army and navy commandoes, launched a dawn raid in Tuburan, a town in Lanao del Sur province, to catch Daulah Islamiyah-Maute Group (DI-MG) sub-leaders Farahufon Hadji Satar (alias Abu Omar) and Muna Kali (alias Abu Dimam), said Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr., chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command.
“While the security forces were approaching the target house to serve the warrant of arrest they were fired upon by the target suspects and their cohorts, sparking the brief firefight,” Vinluan told reporters.
“The targets escaped,” he said as he listed the names of the nine suspects who were taken into custody.
Vinluan identified them as Camaroden Tindug, 52; Sabdullah Sarip, 36; Oter Macaungun, 35; Asnare Alisood, 20; Alisood Dima, 52; Sowaib Abdullah, 18; Saaduden Adapun, 30; Zaenal Abdulatip, 33; and Aleem Salih Pitiilan, 45.
There were no reports of casualties on either side.
The government forces recovered five firearms – two M-16 rifles, one carbine, two .45-caliber pistols – along with an improvised explosive device (IED), communications equipment and a laptop computer, officials said.
According to Vinluan, the military was holding the suspects for interrogation and would turn them over to police later.
“We continue to intensify our operations to hunt and pound the remaining DI-MG members in our area of operation,” the regional military chief said.
With Saturday’s arrests, military forces in the Mindanao region have now caught 18 Daulah Islamiyah suspects since January, Vinluan said. Of the 18, two others were killed, while seven surrendered, he said.
The Daulah Islamiyah is the Philippine name for Islamic State (IS). The Maute Group was founded by two Filipino brothers by that surname who helped organize and lead a five-month siege of Marawi City by pro-IS fighters from the Philippines and other countries in 2017. Marawi is the capital of Lanao del Sur.
During the ransacking of the southern Philippine city, the Mautes acted as lieutenants to overall Philippine IS head and Abu Sayyaf Group militant Isnilon Hapilon, who led the attack on Marawi. The ensuing battle of Marawi between government forces and the pro-IS militants lasted from May 23 to Oct. 23, 2017. It left the city in ruins and an estimated 1,200 people dead.
Hapilon, as well as both of the Maute brothers were killed in the fighting, but some militants managed to flee Marawi. They are now scattered in the south and the military say they have been trying to recruit new fighters to their cause.
Meanwhile, Rear Adm. Toribio Adaci Jr., commander of naval forces for the Western Mindanao region, confirmed on Saturday that police in the Malaysian state of Sabah – in nearby Borneo Island – had handed over eight suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf Group to Philippine authorities in deporting them to Tawi-Tawi, a province in the far southern Philippines a day earlier.
Sabah police arrested the eight earlier this month when they found them hiding out in a swamp with eight women and 21 children. The women and children remain in the custody of Malaysian immigration authorities.
Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cotabato City, Philippines.