Rebels attack Philippine village, possibly to divert troops

Suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) raided a village in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato, around 5:30 a.m., Wednesday, engaged government troopers in a firefight, and are holding hostages, six of them children, a police official said.

Police and the local mayor said militants took over the school after attacking an army detachment in Pigkawayan, a farming town about 160 kilometres (100 miles) from Marawi city where militants linked to the Islamic State group have been fighting government troops for over a month. Villagers fled to safety.

"We can confirm that they occupied a school and there were civilians trapped".

Mamon said that their forces are determining if students are also among hostages, but it is unlikely there were students as classes were yet to start when the attack happened. The attackers apparently were withdrawing, Padilla said.

Asked whether the military and local officials were aware of the attack, Garsesa said that there were intelligence reports circulating through text messages Tuesday night that the "armed groups were coming".

"If this is a diversionary move, it's not the first by these BIFF gunmen", Padilla said.

Some BIFF fighters were believed to have slipped to Marawi City, some 300 km from its base in the marshland areas of central Mindanao, and joined other radical groups in the fight against security forces. "They have tried to attack a couple of times and all have been thwarted".

Philippine troops, backed by airstrikes and artillery, launched an offensive to wrest back control of several villages and the business district. At least 258 militants, 65 soldiers and policemen and 26 civilians have been killed.

  • Leroy Wright