Government troops are now engaging members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) after the terrorists overran the village of Malagakit, located just outside of Pigcawayan town, Chief Inspector Realan Mamon said.
The police chief confirmed that a number of civilians are now trapped in the area after the militants entered the village shortly after 5:00am on Wednesday.
“We can confirm that they occupied a school and there were civilians trapped. We are in the process of determining how many were trapped and their identities,” Mamon said, according to Reuters.
Government troops managed to push back the initial jihadist attack, but ISIS-linked fighters managed to take at least five people hostage as they retreated, according to a spokesperson for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.
“But as they (BIFF fighters) were escaping, they took some civilians hostage and [used them as] human shields,” Capt. Arvin Encinas, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
So far, the Philippines Army has been unable to determine whether students and teachers were among the captives.
Mamon, also could not confirm initial reports that students were being held hostage after the terrorists reportedly occupied a local school.
“We are still verifying that report,” Mamon told the Inquirer by telephone.
For almost a month now, the Philippines army has been battling radical Islamist militants in Marawi, the capital of the country’s second largest island, Mindanao.
Apart from the main Maute terror group, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), there are around 20 other foreign and local jihadist cells, including BIFF, operating in Mindanao, Solicitor General Jose Calida revealed on Monday.
“In addition to ISIS-linked local rebel groups, there are also ISIS cell groups that operate all over Mindanao. These cell groups conduct coordinated attacks with the aforesaid rebel groups,” Calida said.
The death toll from the fighting in the Philippines has so far surpassed 300 casualties. Some 225 militants, 59 soldiers and 26 civilians have been killed in the clashes according to official government figures.