Islamic State-Linked Militants Storm New Village in Philippines

A Philippine military plane carries out an airstrike in Marawi, where the military has been battling Islamic State-linked militants for more than a month.

MANILA, Philippines—Militants aligned with Islamic State attacked a village and fought with security forces in the southern Philippines, spreading a bloody conflict about 50 miles south of where government forces have been battling Islamist insurgents for more than a month.
Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters group attacked a village near the town of Pigcawayan in central Mindanao island at dawn on Wednesday, briefly occupying a school and using local civilians as human shields, police and the military said. Members of the group have been involved in the prolonged battle against government troops to the north.
The gunmen targeted a patrol base of government-sponsored militiamen, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said. By midmorning, security forces in the area had repelled the attack and the militants had withdrawn, he added.
Mr. Padilla said the militants had used about five civilians as human shields in making their escape, and that authorities didn’t yet know if they had been released. No casualties were announced.
“The school area is again safe. The patrol base is well-secured,” Mr. Padilla said. He added that the militants “were taking advantage of the situation that we have a very … lightly defended outpost and that they think our forces are elsewhere in the province. But that’s not the case. Our forces are spread all over.”
Government troops have been battling militants linked to Islamic State in Marawi, a Mindanao city of 200,000, leading President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire region under martial law last month. More than 300 people have been killed and 180,000 displaced in the fighting, and the military estimates around 500 civilians remain trapped.
Militants have been seeking to establish a caliphate in the predominantly Muslim southern Philippines.
In recent days, authorities have said a small number of fighters in Marawi have escaped the city, fueling concern that the conflict could spread to other areas. Authorities also fear that with the end of the Muslim fasting month next week, reinforcements could join the fighting, including from foreign shores. The government has said militants in Marawi include citizens from Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and other countries.
The Bureau of Immigration on Wednesday moved to tighten borders, ordering more stringent screening of foreigners arriving at airports across the country and seaports in the south. Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said in a statement that visitors having “questionable documents or doubtful purposes” should be “booked on the first available flight to their port of origin.”
Mr. Duterte on Tuesday raised the specter of a wider conflict in Mindanao should the island’s Christians take a stand against the militants.
“If civilians start to take up arms, it will be a civil war,” he said while visiting soldiers in Cagayan de Oro, a coastal city in northern Mindanao.
“In Mindanao, there are a lot of Christians who also own high-powered guns,” he said. “They have stockpiles of arms. A communal war will be dangerous for everyone. We have to prevent that.”
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