Pro-Islamic state militants storm school in southern Philippines

Islamist militants holed up in a southern Philippines town have been cornered and their firepower is flagging, the military said on Thursday, as the five-week battle for control of Marawi City raged on.

The group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for a series of military offensives in North Cotabato and nearby Maguindanao province.

The rebels may have taken advantage of a massive military offensive against militants aligned with the Islamic State group who have laid siege to the southern city of Marawi, and plotted to attack military targets elsewhere, military spokesman Brig.

A local official confirmed that the BIFF guerrillas set the school building on fire, but could not say if initial reports that a number of residents were locked inside one of the classrooms was true.

Lt. Col. Emmanuel Garcia, commander of the Armed Forces' 4th Civil Relations Group, said 225 Maute armed group members, 59 security personnel and 26 civilians have been killed since the outbreak of hostilities on May 23; 1,629 civilians were also rescued by troops, local government units and civil society organizations.

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

Chief Inspector Realan Mamon could not confirm if students or teachers were being held hostage.

At least four rebels were killed and two government militiamen were wounded in the fighting, which caused almost 1,000 villagers in Malagakit and two nearby villages to flee to safety, the officials said. Gen. Restituto Padilla told a press briefing at the presidential office in the capital Manila that militants had withdrawn from the school.

Padilla said troops have cordoned off the school because the militants had planted improvised explosive devices around the area. The attack followed an army and police raid on a hideout that failed to capture a top militant suspect.

The armed men slipped out of the public elementary school in the village of Malagakit as darkness fell, said Captain Arvin Encinas, an army spokesman.

The U.S. military in recent weeks deployed a P3 Orion aircraft to provide surveillance and intelligence to troops battling more than 100 gunmen holding an unspecified number of hostages in four remaining Marawi villages.

The fighting has left Marawi, the most important Muslim city in the Philippines, largely in ruins.

Duterte declared martial law in the entire Mindanao region to deal with the Marawi crisis.

  • Leroy Wright