BY ROGER M. BALANZA
At least 11 soldiers and two policemen have been killed since Tuesday, May 23 in fierce firefights with the terrorist Maute Group in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur in Mindanao.
Mindanao , the Philippines’ main southern island, is home to various Moro terrorist and militant groups largely blamed for the island’s slow economic development and unstable peace and order.
Thirty-one of the Maute Group have been killed as of May 25, television reports said quoting a military statement.
The terrorist group launched a surprise attack on late afternoon of May 22 on the western city of Mindanao, occupied and burned facilities and establishments without initial resistant from government.
Reports said there were more than a hundred terrorists involved in the attack, who did not need to march in numbers into the pre-dominantly Muslim city.
Armed members of the Maute Group, along with supporters from another terrorist group, the Abu Sayyaf, were reported to be already holed up in the city. The military and police said they were to arrest on the day a top leader of the Abu Sayyaf.
Commandeering government vehicles, the terrorists waved flags of the Middle East-based terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Iran (ISIS), before being engaged in firefights by responding government troopers the following day, May 23.
As the terrorists count casualties, so does the government as the battle rages on.
On Thursday, May 25, 6 soldiers were killed and seven others were injured as the fighting continues.
Fifteen terrorists, on the same day, were killed in firefights with troops clearing two key bridges guarded by about 30 terrorists, said the Armed Forces of thePhilippines (AFP) Western Mindanao Command.
The Maute Group apparently is now linked to the Abu Sayyaf, which is reported as seeking recognition as a Philippine cell of the ISIS, now considered as the world’s most violent terrorist group.
The terrorist attack on Marawi happened on the day that military and police were to serve a warrant of arrest on Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, top leader of the Abu Sayyaf who is reported to have a direct link to the ISIS. Hapilon is in the Most Wanted list of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Hapilon was reported to be in Marawi City recuperating from serious wounds suffered during an airstrike on an Abu Sayyaf base in Butig town in Lanao del Sur in January.
Government operatives said they encountered members of the Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf holed up in Marawi City while they were planning to serve the warrant of arrest on Hapilon.