Seven former Muslim rebels have been killed in the southern Philippines in an attack claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, military and police authorities said yesterday.
They said the dead were all members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), formerly the country’s largest guerrilla group but which began decommissioning weapons last month under the terms of a 2014 peace treaty.
A pro-ISIS armed group called Dawlah Islamiyah attacked a MILF camp near the town of Shariff Saydona on Friday, sparking fighting that lasted several hours, said Lieutenant-Colonel Ernesto Gener, commander of a local army battalion.
ISIS claimed responsibility in a communique seen by Site Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity.
The extremists said eight MILF members were killed, but local police commander, Lt-Col Arnold Santiago, told reporters the authorities were only aware of seven deaths.
Locals said they saw seven bodies being loaded onto a boat at a riverbank in Shariff Saydona, about 900km south of Manila.
MILF spokesman Von al Haq declined to comment.
The peace pact with MILF ended decades of Muslim rebellion that had claimed 150,000 lives by government estimates in the Mindanao region, home to the Catholic nation’s large Islamic minority.
The MILF was put in charge of a Muslim autonomous region as part of the peace accord, but Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said ISIS is attempting to set up a South-east Asian stronghold there.
Hundreds of pro-ISIS gunmen seized the city of Marawi in May 2017, sparking a five-month battle that left more than 1,000 dead.
The MILF, sometimes with Philippine military help, has in recent years waged an armed campaign to flush out a number of pro-ISIS groups operating in the swampy farming region around Shariff Saydona.