Islamic State-linked fighters attack another Mindanao town

Villagers flee Philippine town of Pigcawayan as hundreds of Muslim rebel group fighters launch assault
Islamic State-linked fighters attack another Mindanao town

Villagers arrive in the town center of Pigcawayan in the southern Philippine province of Cotabato after fleeing their villages that were attacked by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. (Photo by Mark Navales)

More than a thousand villagers fled their homes in Cotabato province in the Philippines on June 21 after about 300 gunmen from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) rebel group attacked the town of Pigcawayan.

Military officials said the attack was not related to ongoing hostilities in the city Marawi, some 100 kilometers away, where security forces continue to battle Islamic State-inspired gunmen.

The displaced people are being sheltered in at least six evacuation centers in the town center.

"Their needs are being addressed by the government," said Jezler Garcesa, spokesman of the town's crisis management committee. He said medical teams have already been deployed.

"It is unfortunate that our people have to suffer from the conflict," Garcesa told ucanews.com.

He said the gunmen did not take hostages, contrary to earlier media reports. "Civilians trapped when the firefight erupted are now safe," said Garcesa.

Captain Arvin Encinas, spokesman of the army's 6th Infantry Division, said troops were still pursuing retreating fighters as of early June 22.

"We have repulsed the BIFF's attempt to take control of villages in Pigcawayan," said the military official.

The BIFF, a breakaway group of the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front that signed a peace deal with the government, has pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State group.

Encinas said the attack could be part of the  "overall plan" of terrorist groups to establish a stronghold in Mindanao.

"They have no other motive but to establish an Islamic State," he said.

 

Call for unity

As fighting in the besieged city of Marawi entered its second month this week, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana appealed for support from the public.

"We see the need, now more than ever, for the Filipino people to unite against these forces of evil," said the official.

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According to government figures, the fighting, which erupted on May 23, has already resulted in the death of 257 terrorist fighters, 62 soldiers and policemen, and 26 civilians.

"It is our patriotic duty to resist and stop evil from taking root," said Lorenzana, adding that, "religion should never be used as a justification to murder and destroy the lives of innocent civilians."

"Let us all show our strong rejection of terrorists and their sympathizers' futile attempts to sway the hearts and minds of our people," Lorenzana said.

Military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said the conflict in Marawi is "nearing conclusion."

"We are already in the final phase which is the final retaking of a few portions of Marawi which they are still holding, where they are offering pockets of resistance," said Arevalo.

He said the terrorists are still holding civilians as "human shields."

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