The military, backed by aircraft and artillery, have pounded an unoccupied Islamic school in Butig, Lanao del Sur in an attempt to dislodge dozens of militants who started occupying part of the town Thursday.
At least 11 members of the Maute Group have been killed and five others, including two soldiers, were wounded, according to Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the Armed Forces Public Affairs Office.
Some 40 militants took cover in a madrasa – a Muslim school – in Barangay Bayabao. It is about a kilometer away from the town hall which has been secured by government forces, officials said.
More than 1,000 villagers fled their homes because of the clashes.
Troops launched the attack Thursday following intelligence reports that they were continuing to make explosives after being blamed for a September 2 bomb attack that killed 15 people in Davao City.
Two leaders – brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute – are being sought by government troops.
The Maute militants initially were affiliated with an Indonesian terrorist suspect known only as Sanusi, who was killed in southern Marawi City, near Butig, in 2012. They later used black flags and arm and head bands with Islamic State symbols in an attempt to capture the attention of the Middle East-based extremist group and possibly secure funding, military officials said.
The loosely organized group has more than 200 members with about 70 firearms, according to a government threat-assessment report.
The larger and main Muslim rebel group in the south, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has a large camp in the hinterlands of Butig, but the insurgents, who signed a peace deal with the government in 2014, were not supporting the Maute militants, Padilla said.
In March, the military launched a major offensive involving about 2,000 military personnel that killed 24 Maute militants and six soldiers and wounded dozens of other combatants in Butig. (With a report from AP)
(FRANCIS T. WAKEFIELD)